Maybe The iPhone 5 Hype Is Not So ‘Silly’ After All

By Steve Smith

At some point the annual hype ritual of a new iPhone release has to grow old, even for the die-hard technorati that gets sucked in every time. How many years can Apple get away with a series of teases and reveals involving, after all, just a phone? Well, this year isn’t the year that Apple’s mastery of the digital promotion machine falters. For publications dedicated to technology, IT and gadgetry, coverage of the big reveal paid off in page views.

IDG’s reports that its live blog of the Apple presentation in San Francisco drew 300,000 unique visitors. The event gave the site twice its typical day’s traffic.

At Conde Nast’s Ars Technica they employed a proprietary platform built for just such an occasion. The special area of the site allowed for live blog posts to work seamlessly with image feeds as well as user commentary. The area was also designed to withstand hard hits to the servers and still perform.

And the platform came in handy yesterday. Ars Technica recorded its highest traffic day ever because of the iPhone 5 event. It counted 15.3 million page views, 500% the daily average. The live blog platform got a whopping 13.2 million of those pages, up from 8 million for the iPhone 4S launch. As for unique, it drew 684,000.

Searches for ‘iPhone 5′ had already been up over 100% in August, according to reports.

Which is not to say that interest was unprecedented everywhere. Jacob Ward, editor-in-chief of Popular Science tells minonline that his site’s live blog of the roll-out did get a characteristic bump, but not of quite scale or longevity on emight expect. "It was our highest-trafficked topic of the day, what with our liveblog of the event, but was eclipsed by other unrelated topics the following day — science miscellany and the like," he says. "So a quick bump, but nothing major. Seems to me that the audience has a huge interest in the latest iPhone, but that this one wasn’t all that impressive a leap forward for the company, and so the bump was modest."

Yeah, it is only a phone. But the Apple event has become exactly the kind of entertainment built for this medium. It speaks directly to the tech-savvy and most Internet-obsessed. But coverage tends to employ some of the latest blogging technologies and real-time reporting techniques. One site, The Verge, was live streaming video from outside the San Francisco center at which Apple was holding the event.

It is also significant that the annual ritual revolves around a new phone. Actually, a smartphone is not “just a phone,” anymore. At a party I attended last night, a thoroughly non-techie office worker was recounting how everyone in her office was keeping a window open on their cubicle desktop yesterday with one eye on what was unfolding. It is a kind of tech-era entertainment for a broader audience. And this also speaks to the highly personal and valued nature of the mobile device. There is nothing trivial about our attachment to a piece of technology on which we have come to depend in the last five years. I suspect many people simply enjoy watching and cheerleading Apple wizardry. We love the fact that a company is making the technology we depend upon aesthetically enjoyable to hold, see and use.

Don’t be too quick to dismiss the hype as silly excess. There is some kernel of populist wisdom in the online fervor. Apple is being rewarded for solving a problem that the high tech world has had since I started studying it as an academic in the mid 80s and covering it as a media critic in the mid-90s. The technology of this digital revolution was built, designed and marketed by engineers, for engineers and basically to engineers. Apple broke that hold. Google still hasn’t. Argue all you want about how so many phones preceded the iPhone 5 with a bigger screen, 4G speed and advanced mapping and other features. That is not the point. Apple humanized the technology is ways that captured the American imagination because it addressed and anxiety and a need surrounding high technology – to make it manageable and genuinely fun.