I never planned to get the iPhone.
When the original iPhone went on sale on June 29, 2007, I was rocking a Samsung A900 “Blade” flip phone, the company’s actually-pretty-decent copy of the storied Motorola RAZR phone. I was editor of a tech blog for NBCUniversal at the time, and my reporter, Stewart Wolpin, was at New York City’s flagship Apple Store covering the launch of the so-called “Jesus phone.”
Shortly after the doors opened and he got in, my phone rang.
“They’re letting me buy two,” Stewart said. “Want one?”
The original iPhone cost $600 — a lot of coin for a tech blogger, especially in an era where carrier subsidizing meant most phones cost $100-$200. I hesitated, but only for a couple of seconds.
“Yes. Get me one.”
After I visited an ATM and exchanged a wad of cash for what is now referred to as the iPhone 2G, I had a little buyer’s remorse — especially since Apple and AT&T’s overloaded systems meant I couldn’t activate it until three days later.
Shortly after I went to my first party with the iPhone. After I pulled it out, I was treated like a celebrity. Everyone — even people who I would never think of as into tech — had questions and wanted to try it out. They asked what my favorite features were, how much I paid, and whether they should get one. Strangers in bars came up to me to ask about the gadget I was holding, and a couple even bought me drinks. This pattern repeated until at least September, when Apple lowered the price of the iPhone to $400.
The original iPhone was a great device on its own. But I’d be lying if I said getting treated like a rock star didn’t factor into my overall appreciation of the product. On some level, joining the “cool club” was a part of my initial decision when I decided to ask Stewart to buy me one of the phones, but living with the phone showed just how exclusive it was.
Which brings me to the iPhone X.
Since 2007, the cool factor of buying an iPhone has waned. Over the years — as Apple’s sales have ballooned and the iPhone has become the best-selling smartphone in the world — the device has gotten less and less exclusive. When you buy an iPhone, you’re no longer special; you’re basic.
The iPhone X promises a lot. It has a super-high-resolution screen that stretches to nearly the edge of the device. It packs Apple’s most advanced and powerful mobile processor, augmented with a “neural engine.” It has one of the most advanced cameras ever put into a smartphone, letting you unlock the device with your face, simulate professional studio lighting, and render your head as an talking emoji.
All that stuff sounds great, but it’s the real promise of the iPhone X is that it brings back the cool factor. Not only is the cachet of owning Apple’s latest back, but the design of the phone is conducive to getting noticed. With just the vertically aligned camera lenses as a clue, several people noticed Mashable‘s Lance Ulanoff was using an iPhone X when he was reviewing it. And if anyone gets even a glimpse at the front of the device, the screen and requisite “notch” are dead giveaways.
Not many brands can pull this off. It requires a combination of innovative product design, marketing hype, and general brand goodwill. Google, Samsung, Amazon, and even Microsoft usually can only get two of those things right. Only Tesla comes close to matching Apple in its ability to make owning a tech product a statement of status.
With iPhone X, that statement is louder than it’s been in 10 years. The (coincidental?) limited supply and high price tag — both downsides for most products — actually strengthen the phone’s allure. Who wants to join a club that lets just anyone in?
To many, that’s the thing that bothers them most about Apple: the reality distortion field that bends consumer attention to the point where a product becomes a must-have before anyone even looks beneath the surface at all — the sales pitch that amounts to “trust us” yet still convinces millions to hand over their credit card numbers with enthusiasm.
If you’re in the club, though, all you hear are the usual gripes from people who couldn’t get in. Apple has brought sexy back to the iPhone, and everyone’s invited to the party. The cost of entry: just one iPhone X.