Only Steve Jobs can turn the launch of a new phone into a quasi-religious ceremony. Last week's launch of the Apple's latest iPhone in San Francisco was preceded by the usual feverish excitement and speculation.
When Jobs, chief executive and founder of the computer firm, finally got up to speak, audience members whooped and punched the air in triumph. Bloggers logged minute-by-minute updates on Jobs's utterances as if undertaking a football match commentary.
In the end, the launch was something of a letdown, though disciples of Jobs will not have a bad word said against their leader. The phone replaces the iPhone launched last year, coming equipped with 3G to enable faster internet access. The only real surprise was the price - $199 - compared with $399 for the cheapest version last summer.
So how has Jobs inspired such fervent devotion to Apple and to what most people would just call a new phone?
Jobs's life story is better documented - and more unconventional -than almost any other chief executive of a leading company. Born in 1955, he dropped out of university after one term and took a job at videogame maker Atari to save up enough money to backpack around India.
When he returned, with friend Steve Wozniak and barely out of his teens, he designed and hand-built in his garage what many people have credited as being the world's first personal computer. A local store put them on sale for $666.66 in 1976, selling about 200. Apple was born, introducing the Macintosh computer less than a decade later, and more recently the iPod and iPhone.
Leander Kahney, news editor of Wirednews.com and author of Inside Steve's Brain, calls Apple the 'magic factory'. Trying to explain the mystique that still surrounds the company's product launches, he says: 'No one gets to peek behind the curtain - the products just seem to appear magically. The whole innovation process is mystical.'
As with many myths, the cult of Jobs and Apple (they are almost interchangeable) is a mix of fact and carefully preserved fiction. Jobs's and Wozniak's development of the Mac was a response to the launch by IBM, the dominant technology company at the time, of its own mass-market personal computer in 1981.
Kahney says: 'He and Steve were hippy idealistic kids. There was a motivation to take on "the man". IBM was the man and the Mac was the tool of empowerment. They believed that technology would give power to the people. They played this image up - but they probably believed it at the beginning.'
Jobs, a student of Buddhism and a vegetarian, was diagnosed with cancer in 2003 but the tumour was removed a year later and he has since made a full recovery. In 2005, he gave a moving speech to Stanford University students, apparently drawing on his brush-with-death experience: 'Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life,' he said. 'Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.'
Kahney says Jobs remains very hands-on in the design of new products: 'Everything has to go through his approval. He has his finger in all the pies.'
Former employees of Jobs say he is extremely demanding to work for, with very high standards. Gary Allen, who runs an Apple fan site, says his management style is like a good sports coach - 'encouraging people to move past good performance and on to excellent performance'.
He concedes, somewhat sarcastically: 'Sometimes his encouragement might seem aggressive, but apparently that's successful in creating extraordinary products. And apparently there are lots of people who want to experience his management style, since there is no end of applicants for jobs at Apple.'
Analysts said that the launch of the iPhone 3G, at a lower price than its predecessor and being made available in 70 countries, marks Apple's bid to break into the mass mobile market.
But as Paul Lee, analyst at Deloitte, points out, the company's previous big hits - the Mac and iPod - were launched into nascent markets where no dominant incumbent already existed. By contrast, the world is already awash with mobile phones. Lee says: 'The mobile phone market is one of the biggest in the world. Any vendor has to try to differentiate itself from competitors.'
Analysts say that, as with other products, Apple will gradually launch other cheaper, pared-down versions of the iPhone. Apple, which is on track to meet its original target of selling 10 million iPhones by the end of this year, has not given any sales targets beyond that date. But it's unlikely the company will try to compete with the cheapest handset manufacturers, wanting customers impressed with the hi-tech iPhone to buy Apple software for the device and other products.
Charles Golvin, principal analyst at Forrester, says: 'There seems to be a halo effect on Mac sales as many consumers who come into contact with other Apple products like an iPhone or iPod end up considering buying a Mac.'
When it became public, Jobs's cancer fuelled speculation about how Apple would cope without its founder and talisman. Jobs watchers say that, notwithstanding last week's launch, the company is trying to give more exposure to other executives. Leander says: 'An Apple without Jobs would not have the same charisma or his mystique.' But as Allen sums up: 'Jobs will always be the Guru for his fans.'
Name: Steven Paul Jobs
Born: 24 February 1955; adopted by Californians Justin and Clara Jobs
Education: Graduated from high school in 1972, dropped out from Reed College in Portland, Oregon in his first year
Career: 1976-85, co-founder and chief executive of Apple Computer; 1985-86, founder and president, NextStep; 1997, returned to Apple