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Do iPhone Announcements Get More Attention Than They Deserve?

There will be a lot of questions about the iPhone 5 before its release Wednesday. Less popular among them: Why do we care so much?

Like previous generations of Apple's smartphone, the iPhone 5 has prompted months of speculation about its release date and technical specifications as well as leaked photos, both real and imagined, online. When Apple makes its announcement, scores of writers will live-blog what happens. And then others will blog about what they are reading from the live-bloggers.

The hype is so predictable and massive year after year, it's almost a foregone conclusion. But it's all a bit much for a phone. Right?

From a consumer electronics perspective, the iPhone is undoubtedly a trend-setter.

"It's hard to think of any new product that is going to affect the direction of where technology goes more than a new iPhone," says Mike Elgan, a writer for the website Cult of Mac.

But it's more than that, says Wired Senior Writer Steven Levy. There's something about Apple that makes its phone launches a big deal every time, whether you already have an iPhone or don't even want one.

"It's sort of fascinating that it seems to have a momentum of its own now. The celebration celebrates the celebration," Levy says.

So why do we care about the iPhone? The answer, it turns out, is a fairly circular one. We care about the iPhone release because, well, it's the iPhone release! It justifies its importance beyond the industry realm because for years Apple has treated it as though it had already done so.

Remember Steve Jobs' introduction of the first iPhone in 2007:" "Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything."

That type of language is hardly unique among CEOs. Nonetheless, Elgan says, the iPhone release has achieved a cultural significance reserved for only the largest and most ubiquitous corporations.

"If McDonald's started selling pizza, you would know about it. Even if you never went to McDonald's," he says.

Apple, it seems, is the stand-alone in this regard in the mobile category. The Android-powered devices that are the iPhone's chief competition make their debut every few months with far less fanfare.

"For average consumers, I'd say most of them have no idea when a new Android device comes out," says Vincent Messina, lead blogger for the website Cult of Android.

That's no fault of Android, Elgan says, but rather the difference between a software fan base and a fan base for a singular product like the iPhone.

"If every single Android product were launched at the same event once a year, it would probably be just like this. This would be the event. Everybody who's interested in Android would be flipping out," Elgan says.

Apple's annual release, meanwhile, helps ensure that the anticipation and subsequent festivities balloon to holiday proportions.

"For people who are into iPhones, that day is Christmas," Elgan says.

As for die-hard Android fans, says Messina, they're anticipating the new iPhone too. But they're not waiting for a present; they're looking for coal.

"A lot of Android fans are more concerned to see what they're going to come out with now ever since they started their whole patent holy war," Messina says. "I think everyone is real anxious to jump down Apple's throat."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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