In a little over a week Apple will kick off a massive marketing campaign for the new iPhone by hosting an unveiling event that will not only be streamed live but will also be subjected to in-depth scrutiny by the media. But as someone who has been watching iPhone launch events since the iPhone first debuted, all the rah-rah is starting to feel, well, a little pathetic.
Now I'm a huge fan of technology, and I'm guessing that if you're reading this then so are you. That probably means that we get a little excited about things - a few extra gigabytes of RAM or a few more megapixels on a camera sensor - that regular people don't care about. But even I'm starting to look at the huge event that Apple builds up around new iPhone and feel that the whole thing is now more hype than substance.
Here's a fact about hardware - everything goes through a lifecycle. A new product is released into market, and if it survives it sees incremental improvements until the product is no longer viable. A modern example of this is the iPod. Here's a product that was released in 2001, peaked in 2008, and is now in its waning years. And as far as consumer tech goes, the iPod had a long lifespan.
Now take the iPhone. Here's a product that was released in 2007 and has so far undergone eight updates. But in recent years these updates have essentially been little more than evolutionary tweaks to the performance, weight, thickness, camera resolution and display of the device. And yet every year Tim Cook and the gang take to the stage to essentially take credit for something that Moore's law has been bringing to tech for decades. You'd think that Apple was reinventing the wheel every 12 months, not just simply taking advantage of the fact that components are getting smaller, faster, and more efficient.
Then there's the name.
As soon as Apple started attaching designators to the iPhone, I wondered how long it could milk a yearly name change wrapped around an incremental upgrade. After all, we don't have a MacBook Pro 13 or MacBook Air 9, because that sounds clumsy. Apple was smart enough to give itself some breathing room by tick-tocking between iPhone 4/4s and 5/5s for the past few years (a pattern the company is expected to follow this time around), but even then there's a point at which the numbers become unwieldy.
What happens then?
Another pressure facing Apple is that it cannot afford to put a foot wrong with the iPhone. The company balance sheet is so heavily reliant on this one product that any signal that the sales momentum is slowing down would seriously spook investors. What this means on the ground is that Apple will need to spin a slightly faster processor and perhaps a camera that's got a few extra megapixels into first weekend sales that are better than what the company had last year.
With the Chinese economy not being what it was a year ago, this might be quite a challenge.
And if you're skeptical about how fast things can change, look at how quickly the iPad went from growth to decline.
Maybe I should take all this back. Maybe Apple is a genius when it comes to marketing because it can still get people jazzed about incremental improvements when the rest of the consumer tech industry cannot. Maybe the finite lifespan that Apple builds into its devices gives the product a much longer lifespan (after all, I know of plenty of people using 10 year old PCs, but can't think of anyone using a five year old iPhone).
Or maybe I've just become cynical about being given the opportunity to exchange a big chunk of legal tender for a shiny new doodad that's really only marginally (and sometimes imperceptibly) better that the less shiny, somewhat scratched and battle-scarred doodad I already own.