iPhone 4: A Little Less Magic

Whether you love them or hate them, there’s no denying that Apple has managed to create a truly unique and powerful image for itself. The self-proclaimed “magic” that Apple creates isn’t just in its products, but it permeates the very culture that this company has managed to build around itself.

Part of that culture has been surprise and delight. They create beautiful objects with features and qualities that make users to touch, hold, and become possessive of them. They create experiences that are designed to be intensely personal and satisfying for a large number of people (which, because of human nature, makes them exactly the opposite to a few!).

Everyone expects big things from Apple. From the first iMac unveiled over a decade ago to the iPad earlier this year, Steve Jobs has orchestrated the launches of a number of products that have had the desired effect. These products have been wildly successful because of the amazing levels of positive hype and energy that gets built up around them, no matter what their actual qualities and shortcomings are. And so everyone wants to see how exactly he’s going to outdo himself and keep the buzz growing year after year. Job’s keynote speeches, typically at conventions held twice a year, have drawn millions of eager fans and industry watchers who just want to see the man in action, weaving his magic and pulling another wonder product out of his hat. Tech and gadget-related sites go into overdrive, some examining facts as arcane as patent office filings, and some simply throwing out random guesses, because everyone wants to read them! Journalists line up for hours to get good seats at the keynotes, and pride themselves on blogging Jobs’ every sentence live as he speaks!

Millions of Web surfers bring the most popular sites to a crawl, maniacally refreshing for up-to-the-second news (self included). And everyone loves the party! Just search YouTube for videos of Jobs announcing the iMac, G4 Cube, Titanium Powerbook and of course iPhone, and you’ll see the audience simply going wild. Pay special attention to the particularly delicious way in which Jobs plays the audience by seemingly ending his speech and then offhandedly remembering “Oh… and just one more thing…” before unveiling the piece de resistance!

All of that has worked so well in the past because Apple has been able to preserve complete secrecy about what it’s planning to launch, and everyone’s simply dying to know what’s going to happen. In past years, no matter how much speculation and how many rumors there have been, the entire truth behind an Apple product launch has never been known to the audience, let alone the vast majority of Apple employees! Jobs understands perfectly well that being surprised is the key to being delighted, and that is the key to generating the positive buzz cloud around his products.

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That’s why the iPhone 4 launch on Monday night was uniquely disappointing. Yes, blurry photos and leaked advertisements have given us hints and clues before, but for the first time in memory, not one single fact was a total surprise (well, maybe the gyroscope). To recap: the first-generation iPhone was launched in June 2007, and a refresh has been launched every June since then. The iPhone platform being as important as it is to Apple, these launches have happened at the company’s World Wide Developers’ Conference, allowing Jobs to make a spectacular keynote appearance. So everyone knew a new iPhone would be out this month. Then, a little while ago, gadget blog Gizmodo did something no one on this planet could have forseen happening: it acted on an offer to buy a supposedly misplaced iPhone prototype (despite the obvious illegality of doing so) and after proving beyond doubt that it was the real deal, proceeded to publish detailed observations about it, along with dozens of high-quality photos, videos, explanations, and commentary.

The articles—Giz quite unashamedly posted their information across numerous posts to maximize their page view statistics—of course caused a massive stir. You can read all about it here. But even more surprisingly, more supposedly lost prototypes surfaced over the next few weeks, and additional information was found online that was undoubtedly genuine.

In addition, Apple uncharacteristically held a small event where it demonstrated features of its next mobile operating system, including much-demanded multitasking, and improvements to email and app management. So even though Gizmodo had leaked out all available hardware information, the software wasn’t to be a surprise.

When it came time to launch the iPhone 4, pretty much the only secret left to reveal was the device’s name (speculation had suggested “iPhone HD”). The size and shape? Leaked. Design and materials? Leaked. Camera specs, screen resolution, processor? Nothing to captivate the audience there either.

Ok, so we didn’t know exactly what battery life ratings they’d publish, and the gyroscope was news, so those were at least somewhat attention-grabbing. And despite having been known to pull the exact opposite stunt and disappoint us by not matching up to apparently solid leaked information, Apple’s dual cameras, HD video recording and video chat were pretty much bang on with everyone’s educated guesses. No great surprises, no magical “one more thing”, and subsequently, the worst letdown of any Jobs keynote to date.

So what does that say about us? After all, we are the ones who tore down our hero. By celebrating leaked information instead of savoring the prospect of an eventual payoff, we, the gadget-lusting blog readers of the world upped the stakes for breaking news and made it attractive for anyone to publish what’s now called the juiciest leak of the century. Just like our tabloid papers and TV news channels rushing to “expose” celebrities and sensationalize any trivia, Gizmodo and the rest of the web rode the wave and fueled it, seeing a golden opportunity to get attention.


Published Date: Jun 10, 2010 11:46 am | Updated Date: Jun 10, 2010 11:46 am