Why We’ll All Rush to the iPhone 5, no Matter What

Kirk & CommunicatorThere is no doubt that millions of Apple customers want to replace their current iPhone, whatever it is, with an iPhone 5. Is this a technical and financial decision? Or is there more going on here? The science fiction culture of wondrous and accessible change, charging into the future, may be at work.

There are some rather mundane reasons to buy a new iPhone. We writers on the Mac Web have to have the latest and greatest iPhone if we’re going to write about it. Some customers who have an iPhone 3GS or 4 probably feel that it’s high time for a new phone. Their iPhone contract entitles them to a new phone, and that Siri thing is very intriguing.

All those rational, technical feelings are not all that interesting. What I’m interested in is the sociology that drives millions of iPhone owners to always want the latest iPhone. No matter what.

Grasping Our Technical Future

I will argue here that there are millions of Apple customers who are emotionally attached to being part of a technical revolution. While many other products have reached technical maturity and are just boring commodities, Apple customers feel that they’re part of a magical time in history.

Apple has a saying that they ignited the personal computer revolution with the Apple II, but in 2007, Apple also ignited the smartphone revolution. With each new iPhone and each new version of iOS, we’ve taken an important step on a journey. It’s something that most everyone can participate in.

In contrast to the Apple II and early Mac journeys, the iPhone is all about social awareness, shopping, navigation, weather, and communication, voice and video. Apps serve us in amazing ways. One app, G-Park, allows you to digitally park your car with GPS, then navigate back to it. That’s a far cry from the early days of personal computing when you had to set DIP switches on SCSI drives and write code to get anything done.

This is a very personal revolution, and we are on a wondrous technical ride. It’s like the heyday in the 1950s at Edwards Air Force Base when all kinds of new, supersonic aircraft were being developed — without Congressional interference. It’s like the 1960s when the U.S. automobile industry rolled out breathtaking new designs each and every year. But kept oh-so secret until the grand unveiling. Look at those tail fins! Some people developed a habit; they just had to have a new car every year. It’s like the first moon landing in 1969 when we thought, in a few years, we’d go on tourist trips to a space station, as in, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Perhaps retire at a Martian colony.

Today, those dreams are just a memory.

But now. Now is exciting. Each year, Apple rolls out a new iPhone with only incremental improvements, but after a few generations, the cumulative effect is awesome. When I look back at my original iPhone from 2007, I can see how far the technology has grown, and I’ve grown along with it. It’s a ride many people can take. Yes, the price of admission to the ride can be steep, but what else can bring so much utility, so much satisfaction? It’s like a science fiction dream come true, and the urge to be part of it is irresistible.

iPhone 5 conceptiPhone 5 concept: TechRadar

There’s also a little bit of pride in being on that ride. Seldom do ordinary people get to have the luxury of being state-of-the-art technically. Their oh-so boring Windows XP machine they bought in 2009 is cranky, slow and not easy to update. The Internet and its technologies and services change at a dizzying pace. One might not have time for Facebook and Twitter and Foursquare and Hulu Plus, but for not much more than you always paid for a mobile phone, you can have the future in your pocket.

And amaze your friends.

That’s why I’m betting the next iPhone will be called the “iPhone 5.” Apple’s iPad isn’t something one might replace each and every year, but the iPhone is. It’s very important for customers to know that “5” is larger than and better than “4” or “4S.” It gives them a sense of punctuating their technical progress into their personal, science fiction future.

This ride will continue for quite awhile, and that’s why the iPhone 5 will be another enormous hit, no matter what features it has.


Capt Kirk image credit: Paramount