The line snaked down the street, back up the street, down again, and back up again. I was outside Apple's flagship 5th Ave. store in New York City and it was still hours before launch. These kinds of lines aren't great for customers, as Apple's retail team has said numerous times and managed to almost eliminate through preorders and pickups in recent years. But, wow, are they powerful visual indicators of the singular cultural popularity of iPhone.
And these were for iPhone X, the most exciting new iPhone since the original.
Some might be surprised by the demand. It starts at $999, after all, which makes iPhone X the most expensive iPhone in the history of the product. But that number is a distraction. Few consumers ever see it. The age of contracts might be behind us but the age of installments has just begun. And, at a buck or two a day, many people can get any iPhone they want.
This was a different launch too. Staggered a month after the release of the similarly powerful but more traditionally designed iPhone 8, Apple made it less about the feeds and speeds nerds care about and more about the features and feel that matter to the mainstream.
We live in curious times. A decade ago a product recall could kill a company and a single misstatement, sink a career. Last year we literally had phones exploding and people not only refusing to return them but eager to buy another immediately. We had companies and people lying to our faces and we rewarded them for it with success previously unimaginable.
Blame the internet, blame social networks, blame the media or whomever you like. But, as a culture, we now show almost no attention span and offer almost unquestioned brand affinity.
We don't just live lives. We broadcast them. We don't just play games. We watch them being streamed. We aren't informed by reporters seeking the truth. We're locked in a Google- and Facebook-owned echo chamber that algorithmically pelts us with increasingly extreme, almost entirely paid for, brand and agenda marketing. It never tries to challenge or expand our world view or pespectives. It just wants to fatten our brains like fois gras so we don't ask too many questions.
It's a completely different culture than it was just a few short years ago and not just for us but for the companies that have to sell to us.
The culture Apple has to sell iPhone into. Because that's Apple's most important job.
Ten years ago, the original iPhone was reviewed by the biggest tech reporters from the biggest newspapers in America. This year, it was shown off by YouTubers who spoke not just to their own audiences but to everyone YouTube wanted to market content and serve search to. And by celebrities and lifestyle outlets whose audiences aren't looking for iPhone reviews but are looking to see and hear about anything the people and lifestyles they identify with are showing off or using.
Just as newspapers gave way to the visual spectacle of television, even the interactivity and immediacy of blogging has given way to the personality and affinity of social video.
All of that was on display at the iPhone X launch. Old school reporters mingled with television cameras and hosts, website editors streamed next to web video correspondents, and a good portion of the customers who came flooding in in waves were themselves streaming live and commenting back and forth on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat.
It's interesting watching Apple, one of the few big tech companies to remain relevant for decades, adapt to this new normal — to the age of streaming keynotes and viral videos. It's interesting watching media trying to adapt — and stressful, as quasi-media myself trying to adapt with them. And it's amazing watching customers care about none of this at all, as they wait in line watching their favorite shows and personalities, searching for whatever hot product or trend they just heard about, and then emulating them as they come in the doors.
There are going to be so many Snaps and Instas of iPhone X today and so many Facebook and YouTube videos to follow. And precious few of them will come from the traditional outlets — at least not until the buzzier and mashier of them aggregate their lists.
While I'm doing my absolute best to explain what OLED means, how Face ID works, the fastest ways to navigate the new interface, what the privacy and security implications are, where augmented reality is going, and a thousand other nerdy details I consider to be critically important for us as a culture to understand and appreciate, I know that the vast majority of people I interact with just want to say hi, get a selfie, and ask what color they should get, how long the battery lasts, and if the one or two features most important to them are still there and work the way they've come to expect.
I think we'll look back and see the iPhone X launch as not simply kicking off the next era of iPhones, but the next era of how Apple sells iPhones, how people buy iPhones, and how those of us in between remain relevant in this new and different era.
I have some ideas about all three of those things. But more on that later.
For now, congrats to all the teams at Apple that worked on iPhone X and shipped the best damn product the company has ever made, and to everyone who got a new iPhone X today. I hope you enjoy your new iPhone and, if you have any questions, you know we're here to help.
And if you haven't already, go read my big-ass iPhone X review because, long after the Snaps time out and the Instas get buried, a lot of the nerdy details in there will still be super useful to you.
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.