Is it really possible that the new iPhone 5 is about to become the best-selling iPhone ever, despite critical reviews over the past week that have been lukewarm at best? On Monday, Apple announced that there were 2 million pre-orders for the new iPhone 5 in just 24 hours — almost twice the rate for the iPhone 4S. In fact, Apple says that it was "blown away" by the positive response to the new iPhone, perhaps because many of the new features, such as a slightly bigger screen, did not seem overly innovative.
In many ways, the launch of the new iPhone 5 feels like opening weekend for the latest overhyped Hollywood blockbuster. Even if critics give it a thumbs-down, people will still rush out and buy it, while setting all kinds of new sales records in the process.
The amount of marketing hype and razzle-dazzle that goes into a typical iPhone launch, including the “leaks” and “rumor mill” complex seemingly supported in no small part by Cupertino itself — looks a lot like the frenzied lead-up to a Hollywood tentpole. People scrutinize new iPhone features the same way they breathlessly debate casting decisions (Who's a better Bourne: Renner or Damon?). We even queue up days before the official "opening," the same way we show up for the first midnight showing at our local multiplex.
Not that there’s anything wrong with this, right? What’s not to love about a cool new gadget, delivered on time, each year? Especially if it could add on a few points to GDP growth?
The problem is that the Silicon Valley technology-entertainment complex might start to suffer from all the symptoms of the modern Hollywood-industrial complex, where the industry starts to rely too heavily on special effects and film plot lines that pander to the lowest common denominator. However, the same way that Hollywood now has trouble producing quirky independent “art house” films and is forced to shoe horn all of its serious Oscar fare into the final three months of the year, Silicon Valley may no longer be able to produce the types of serious, game-changing products in industries such as health care, education or finance.
In short, our collective embrace of the critic-proof technology blockbuster could perceptibly change the dynamic of innovation in Silicon Valley. The new iPhone 5 is the Silicon Valley equivalent of the blockbuster Hollywood movie that the critics love to hate - the one with the big star past his or her prime, the over-the-top special effects that hide a weak or nonexistent script and a saturation marketing campaign that numbs us to the inevitability of its future success. If, indeed, the Apple iPhone 5 turns out to be the bestselling iPhone of all time, it will be interesting to see if Apple feels any need to crank the innovation dial to 11 next year.
Dominic Basulto is a digital thinker at Bond Strategy and Influence (formerly called Electric Artists) in New York. Prior to Bond Strategy and Influence, he was the editor of Fortune’s Business Innovation Insider and a founding member of Corante.com, one of the Web’s first blog media companies. He also shares his thoughts on innovation on the Big Think Endless Innovation blog and is working on a new book on innovation called “Endless Innovation, Most Beautifuland Most Wonderful.”
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