By Mike Snider, USA TODAY
USA Today -- Few companies foment new-product fervor like Apple does.
Over the past five years, consumers have enthusiastically lined up for the chance to plunk down hundreds of dollars on new iPhones and iPads. With the new iPhone 5 expected to be unveiled Wednesday at Apple's announced event, that familiar rumble has again begun to crescendo.
Retail releases of iPhones and iPads have become events akin to New Year's Eve for devoted fans. "There is this phenomenal mystique that surrounds (the iPhone) that you don't see with the Motorola or Nokia phones, and you are probably not even going to see it with the Kindle," says Richard Doherty of The Envisioneering Group. "The Kindle's fanfare will be a brown box arriving in the next couple of weeks. It doesn't have sizzle or an emotional punch to it."
Apple grooms its new products for adoration; each is embedded with the DNA of late company co-founder Steve Jobs. "Thirty years ago, he wanted to make easy-to-use computing devices for ordinary people," says Leander Kahney, editor and publisher of CultofMac.com. "It's come into fruition now."
Breaking down the Apple aura:
•The look. Rather than scream sophistication, the sleek iPhone embodies eye-pleasing simpleness. That design strategy harks back to the Apple II personal computer, released in 1977. At that time, when PCs "all looked like some engineer's idea of what a computer should be," Doherty says, "the Apple II looked friendly. The brain is drawn toward (it)."
•The feel. That spell is unbroken when users interact with the device. "It is easy to use and intuitive," Kahney says. "If you get a new iPhone, it asks you for your Apple ID. You connect it to your Wi-Fi network. You get a couple more screens and it downloads all your data from iCloud. Everything is set up. It's just so much easier. Other devices, such as setting up a new PC, that's a two-week headache."
•The features. That ease-of-use factor flows through the Apple ecosystem. "Apple expertly combines elegant hardware designs with user-friendly software and compelling services," says Neil Mawston of Strategy Analytics. The touchscreen-driven software of the iPhone and iPad "offered a different way to use devices beyond mice and keyboards," he says.
Detractors may criticize Apple products for not always pushing the technological envelope -More battery life please!- and forcing its interface on users. "You can't get under the hood (and) bend it to your will like you can an Android phone," Kahney says. "The ones who like (Android) hate Apple for that."
Competitor Samsung has made inroads with snazzy phones such as the Galaxy S III, of which consumers snapped up 20 million in just over three months. Apple recently asked a court to include that device among those that infringe on its patents in the wake of a $1 billion court victory over Samsung.
And there's some concern that last year's passing of Jobs could dull Apple's aura. "It can never be like it was, but hopefully it can still be very good," says Ken Segall, author of Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple's Success.
The company has "a lot of smart people who like to not have to hassle with their technology," he says. "It should be right there at your fingertips (and) you should lust after its design and simplicity."