RealTime IT News

The Rise of the iPhone

Analysis: Check your calendars. Today is the day when pilgrims line the streets. No, it's not Easter, Shavuot or Eid ul-Fitr. The faithful are not waiting for manna. They wait for another gadget from Jobs.

The iPhone is here (or soon to be, later today).

There's a whole shipment of the miraculous devices in their pristine packaging just waiting to be plucked from the shelves at your local Apple or AT&T stores. They go on sale tonight at 6pm and you can get yours for $499 for 4 gigabytes of flash memory or $599 if you're feeling indulgent for 8 gigabytes.

Some have been lining up already, such as near the Apple Store in midtown Manhattan.

Raven Zachary, a research director for the The 451 Group, created a video to document the first person in line at one of the stores. The subject's name is Greg and he's from Long Island. He's wearing a World Series Champion Yankees t-shirt. Judging from the short interview he gives Zachary, Greg doesn't seem insane. Sure, he could use a shave. But the video was shot on Monday afternoon; Greg had been sitting near Fifth Avenue since five that morning.

So if Greg isn't crazy, what's he doing? For that matter, why isn't he alone? Why are there people selling iWait t-shirts on the Internet? Who can we hold responsible for the 81.5 million results returned by a Google Search for "iPhone"? The Beatles only turn up 50.6 million results on a Google search. Once upon a time, they were thought to be bigger than Jesus. They're just not bigger than the JesusPhone, as tech wags and bloggers have dubbed it.

According to media metrics firm Hitwise, the volume of U.S. searches for the term "iPhone" increased 583 percent in the past four weeks.

John Barrett, Director of Research at Parks Associates, calls it hype. "It's a cool phone, but there isn't any way it's going to live up to this," Barrett told internetnews.com

So who is to blame for the madness?

You could start with Apple's marketing effort. But some would argue that it hasn't been over-the-top at all.

It's just that people love its ads, from the "1984" Mac commercial and the newer "Hi, I'm a PC..." spots. People love that stuff, especially people who "think different."

Even some inside Apple PR are shocked by the electricity and noise surrounding the product launch. "I used to work at Google and we never saw anything like this," one Apple spokesperson told internetnews.com.

Some say the hype is the media's fault. One argument goes like this: It's summer and the media are making the iPhone story bigger than it is in order to fight the seasonal lull of news stories.

These accusers point to numbers indicating real consumer skepticism about the iPhone and it's high price. "The $500 price point is far above that of most buyers," wrote Cowen & Company analysts Tom Watts and Shaun Parvez in a report published Monday.

"According to market research, 85 percent of US customers spend less than $100 on their handsets, leaving less than 15 percent of total potential phone customers in the market for a new iPhone."

That dire prediction follows a mini-survey conducted by research firm IDC earlier this month, which reported that only 10 percent of those surveyed would buy an iPhone at full price. Moreover, a January 2007 survey from online marketer Compete warned that only 1 percent of those likely to buy the combined iPod and cell phone said they'd pay Apple's $500 price tag.

But despite some consumer skepticism, the media's all about the kool-aid. There were more than 14,000 "iPhone" stories on Google News Thursday afternoon. On Tuesday, internetnews.com alone ran three articles on the device.

To be fair, Some of the media attention is due to Apple competitors and partners amplifying the noise. Even two of the biggest companies in tech want a piece of the action.

"Yahoo!’s partnership with Apple continues to exemplify Yahoo!’s intent to be the #1 player in the mobile Internet and in mobile search, globally," one Yahoo spokesperson wrote in an email to internetnews.com.

A spokesperson from Microsoft wrote, "[I was told] you were covering the iPhone on 6/29 and I was wondering if you’d be interested in speaking with Tellme, who was recently acquired by Microsoft – they’re doing some amazing things with advanced mobile search."

But ultimately it is ostensibly the media's responsibility to filter out the hyperbole and hype and present the facts.

iphone touch
Navigation with a touch.
Source: Apple

And so now Greg's significant other -- if he has one -- knows who to blame.

Go ahead and blame the media for the crowds you're going to have to compete with at the Apple Store and AT&T shops this week. Curse those who inspired the kids in the iWait t-shirts to camp out without the benefit of antiperspirant.

Blame the tech press for creating the hype-monster which will delay for you that exquisite moment when you get to unwrap that miraculous device from its precious packaging.

But just remember. You're the one who bought it.