The iPhone 5 hit store shelves last week after months of speculation and hype which, by now, has become a predictable ritual, not just for the iPhone but for other Apple products too.
Apple product releases go through several stages. First come the rumors about possible new features. Then come the "leaked" photos and drawings, some of which turn out to be fabricated while others are at least somewhat true. With the iPhone 5, the leaks close to the announcement date turned out to be mostly accurate, which disappointed me a bit. I had hoped that there would be a "one more thing" (as Steve Jobs used to say) surprise at the end.
The next phase is the anticipation of an announcement date. This year some journalists figured out way in advance that it would be September 12th, and that turned out to be true. Next there is an invitation to the news conference, which ratchets the speculation mill into high gear. Then comes the launch event, which always starts off with a recitation of Apple's past successes followed by a series of product announcements. Immediately after the announcement, the invited press get to see and handle the device under the watchful eyes of Apple PR people, but a few anointed ones get to take one home with them for a week of secret testing. Then Apple opens up online pre-order sales and sells out the first shipment almost immediately.
A couple of days before the device hits the street, the reviews are published online and they're inevitably extremely enthusiastic with an occasional "quibble," such as New York Times columnist David Pogue's complaint about Apple's decision to replace its doc/charging cable with a new one on the iPhone 5, rendering old cables and many accessories obsolete. My complaint about the new "lightning" adapter is that it's once again proprietary. Just about every other cell phone and tablet maker uses the industry standard and interchangeable micro-USB cables.
A day or two before the device goes on sale, there are news stories about people camping out in front of Apple stores followed by a bunch of stories the day it hits the street.
Finally the big day comes and there's yet another news cycle about all the excitement at the stores.
Then come the gripes
Then come the inevitable stories about what's wrong with the device. After the iPhone 4 was released there was "Antennagate," a name suggesting that a minor and easily avoided reception problem when touching a certain spot on the side of the phone was on a par with the Watergate break-in that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation. The "scandal" dissipated soon after Steve Jobs promised to give away free bumpers that solved the problem. Now we're dealing with problems with Apple maps and the horrible scandal called "ScuffGate" about scuffs, marks or scratches on the phone's aluminum back.
I'm keenly aware of all of these phases because, as a technology analyst for CBS News, I'm frequently called by radio and TV stations that -- like most news outlets -- get caught up in the frenzy.
Frankly, I'm bothered by all the attention given to Apple when you consider how other companies are making perfectly good competing products. Based on the hype, you'd think Apple was the first company to introduce a phone with 4G cellular connectivity and a 4-inch screen. In fact, many of the iPhone 5 features are playing catch-up with a variety of Android devices, including Samsung's Galaxy S III, which has an even larger screen and a voice recognition feature similar to Apple's Siri. In some ways the Galaxy S III (which I'm testing now) is superior to the iPhone 5 and in other ways it's not. But as good as it is, it hasn't gotten a fraction of the attention.
I don't blame Apple for all the hype. It's their job to maximize interest in their products. But I do blame the press -- myself included -- for obsessing over them. I keep telling myself to put Apple products into perspective, but I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to covering Apple more than other companies. It's partially competitive pressure and, in my case, it's partially demand from radio and TV stations I work with. And when it comes to blog posts, there's another incentive -- stories about Apple products get more hits than other stories. So if you're looking to maximize viewers (which often translates into more revenue), then you can't go wrong by writing about Apple, which, of course, is exactly what I just did.
This post is adapted from Larry's column that first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News and also on Forbes.com
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