I still don’t get the iPhone pre-order feeding frenzy

Today, Apple started taking pre-orders for a new lineup of smartphones–the same thing it’s done every year since 2007. And just as they have every year since 2007, enough people tried throwing their credit cards at Apple that the company’s online store struggled to respond, leading to one of the more entitled forms of tweeting: Apple won’t let me buy its new smartphone right away!

I don’t get it. But I also didn’t get this customer behavior a dozen years ago, when about the same thing happened at the debut of the iPhone 4. After having seen this kind of self-defeating crowd psychology yield predictable results over the previous three years, I had to vent in my blog at the Post:

So why do people put themselves through the cybernetic equivalent of driving to Tysons Corner Center at 5 p.m. on a Friday in mid-December? A new iPhone–or any other device–isn’t like a ticket to Stephen Strasburg’s pitching debut; your opportunity to buy it does not expire within hours. Nor will they stop making the thing after meeting an initial quota. What’s the point of joining yet another “OMG must buy now!!” shopping stampede?

And yet after 12 more years in which we all should have learned definitively that Apple will crank out new iPhones by the tens of millions, many smartphone shoppers seem to have learned little.

(You can argue that Apple has learned just as little about building an online retail system that can scale to meet this level of demand. But I can understand the company not going too crazy to optimize its retail infrastructure for a one-day-a-year corner case.)

To be clear, I’m not talking about people who have been limping along with damaged smartphones because they didn’t want to buy last year’s Apple gadget weeks or days before its replacement by a shinier successor. I’m also not talking about people who evaluate gadgets for a living–I did once buy a new iPhone on the day of its in-store debut because CNNMoney.com paid me to do that as part of a review.

But if you set an alarm on your completely functional smartphone for 8 a.m. EDT Friday so you could spend $799 and up for a new model that you have not seen or touched and know only from Apple’s staged presentation and the hands-on reports of journalists and analysts at its product-launch event Wednesday, and then you found yourself repeatedly refreshing Apple’s online store to see if your order went through… I hope you’re not asking for sympathy after gadget-hype water once again turned out to be wet.

About that “boring” iPhone 5 launch

In case you missed the news, Apple introduced a new iPhone this week. And for its trouble, the Cupertino, Calif., company has been getting dinged by tech writers for insufficiently stunning the audience. Wired’s Mat Honan spoke for many in a post that, while complimenting the iPhone 5’s advances over the iPhone 4S, handed down a final verdict of “boring.”

But what, exactly, is a company going to do to wow spectators with its fifth incremental update to a product that debuted in the long-ago era of 2007? Short of stunts involving guys in wingsuits, it’s hard to distract an audience from the fact that the smartphone is a maturing, evolving product. Breakthrough innovations don’t come as quickly as they once did. And in some areas, such as power, they don’t seem to be happening at all.

(To any journalists tempted to critique Apple for allowing more of the iPhone 5’s details to leak: What’s wrong with you? Speaking as somebody who can’t count on getting too much attention from the company–it didn’t issue me a press pass to Tuesday’s event–that’s not a bug, that’s a feature!)

Oh, and one more thing: Since Apple didn’t spend weeks and months hyping the next iPhone’s arrival, just where might everybody have gotten the idea that this new model would represent a next level of game-changing awesomeness? Could it possibly have been the sites (most of my past and present outlets included) that have been running speculative next-iPhone posts since this spring? Think about that for a minute.