The Iphone Phenomenon

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Introduction: The iPhone Phenomenon

The iPhone 5 is the latest iteration of Apple’s extremely popular smartphone, due for release on September 21, 2012 (Apple). It’s already received abundant criticism amongst the media and assorted technology oriented blogs for being far too incremental an update over it’s predecessor, the iPhone 4S (Barrett, Honan, Olson, Vascellaro), which in turn was faced with the same criticism (Cryer). This criticism however, hasn’t stopped the iPhone 5 from reaching over 2 million pre-orders in the first 24 hours - nearly double that of the 4S (Graham). Financial firm J.P. Morgan predicts that the launch of the iPhone alone would boost the United States’ GDP by 0.5% (Reid). Clearly, something other than popular critical opinion is influencing consumer behavior here - this paper will attempt to explain some of the factors that may be behind this extremely strong customer response.

In a recent segment on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live!’ called ‘First Look: iPhone 5’ the host Jimmy Kimmel shows the audience a clip of him on the street talking to passers-by. He hands them a phone and tells them it’s the new iPhone 5. He then asks them how they think it compares to the old one - the iPhone 4S. In reality, as Jimmy tells his theatre audience, the passers-by were lied to and were actually given the “old” iPhone 4S, already available for about a year at that point. All the participants shown extoll the virtues of the new phone in their hands - they say it’s lighter, faster and that it even has a bigger screen. Some of the participants claim to already own an iPhone 4S, which makes their reaction even more surprising (“September 12th”).

‘Jimmy Kimmel Live!’ is not a paragon for empirical rigor, yet this particular segment does serve to highlight the question at hand - how does the very concept of a new iPhone have such a strong psychological effect on people?

This paper will argue that, in line with Valcanis’ claim that new media technologies transform cultures, the iPhone has - since launch day in 2007 - been transforming our culture to a point where it is ubiquitous and almost above reproach (33). Some of this cultural transformation has been through Apple’s initial marketing campaigns and somewhat questionable business practices, but the highly networked interactions facilitated by Web 2.0 that dominate the current communications landscape have helped turn the iPhone from a smartphone to a cultural mainstay.

Apple’s Business Practices: Reinforcing the Stranglehold

The only commercial (so far) of the iPhone 5 starts with Jony Ive, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Design telling the audience - “When you think about your iPhone, it’s probably the object you use most in your life. It’s the product you have with you all the time.” (Apple). This is a perfect example of Apple’s marketing campaign towards all the iPhones after the first “Jesus Phone” in 2007 (Campbell, 1192). Apple assumes that you already own an iPhone (Or you want one) - it’s no longer trying to sell you an entirely new concept, it’s simply selling you the best version of a concept you, the viewer, are already extremely familiar with.

The first iPhone commercials revolved around the software, telling the audience of the various things it’s capable of - browsing the internet, making calls and taking photographs (Pederson, 501). Five years later, only two out of the 6 minutes in the commercial focus on the software, the rest revolve around the materiality of the phone. Jony Ive talks about the various methods and materials used to build the phone while clips of fast and precise machinery chipping away at an unfinished iPhone are shown to the viewer - indicating that no human hands could ever hope to build a product so refined. As an aside, It should also be mentioned that there may be an ulterior motive behind this display of the iPhone being built by machines, given the recent criticism and public backlash Apple has faced over...
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