Have Apple media events become boring and all too predictable?
Last week, Tim Cook and co. took the stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and introduced a slew of new products. Indeed, for a single media event, there sure were a lot of products Apple managed to squeeze in; OS X Mavericks, iWork, iLife, refreshed Retina Display MacBook Pros, a completely re-designed Mac Pro, a new iPad Mini with Retina Display, and last but not least, the alluring and unbelievably svelte iPad Air.
Whereas Apple's media events were once praised far and wide, some of the company's more recent media events have been met with a collective "that's it?" type of mentality. This, to a large degree, is to be expected given that some people will never be happy until Apple releases a branded HDTV set that can be controlled with a brand spankin' new iWatch.
Interestingly enough, a new and rather peculiar narrative emerged last week in the wake of Apple's media event. This new narrative posits the notion that the format of Apple's media events in and of themselves have become predictable and rather boring.
Writing for the New York Times last week, Nick Bilton championed this very idea:
Here's the script: Timothy D. Cook comes out on stage in his signature jeans and black shirt - usually untucked. He shows off some statistics. Then other execs take the microphone to show off new software that we've already seen.
There are a few jokes; the audience laughs.
Then comes Philip W. Schiller, Apple's head of marketing, who talks about new hardware and confuses everyone by touting an "Intel Xeon E5 chip," and a "10 MB L3 cache and Turbo Boost," and "cores" and other things most people know absolutely nothing about. (It's as if he's speaking Klingon.)
Then Mr. Cook is back on stage to introduce a new version of an iPad or iPhone or iPod. Then Mr. Schiller again to explain, in Klingon, the guts of the new iPad or iPhone or iPod. Then there's a video of Jony Ive talking about the new iPad or iPhone or iPod. "It's the best [iPad or iPhone or iPod] we've ever made," Mr. Ive says in his smooth British accent.
The shows are like watching someone perform the same magic show over and over. Eventually it stops looking like magic.
Bilton's argument is interesting and opens up an interesting debate. So while Betteridge's law of headlines is typically applicable, please note that I didn''t title this post to merely answer my own question with a definitive "No."
On the contrary, I think the question is ripe for dissection and discussion. I myself think that Bilton may be onto something, and below are a few discussion points I think are worth considering.
1. Apple is a victim of its own success
Apple every so often shakes up industries to their very core. Every few years, Apple is able to introduce a "one more thing" type of feature or product that really gets folks jazzed up. These moments naturally set a high bar of expectation for Apple. So by the time Apple's next media event rolls around, the rumor mill is already churning; "Just what will Apple wow us with this time?" the headlines typically read.
The reality, though, is that the interim years between major product announcements are by their very nature somewhat less interesting. Introducing a smaller version of the iPad, for example, will never be as exciting as the unveiling of the original.
That said, when one expects every Apple media event to change the world, each event is measured against a standard that no company on earth could ever live up to. Consequently, Apple media events are more likely than not to feel like a let down, which can easily bleed into downright boredom.
It's important to remember that Apple, historically speaking, has never been one to wow us with earth shattering products every 12 months. Remember that there was nearly a six year gap between the introduction of the iPod and the release of the first iPhone.
Nonetheless, the media before each and every Apple event likes to ponder what Apple's "One more thing" announcement will be.
In truth, the majority of Steve Jobs' "one more thing" announcements would have been yawn-inducing if they had been evaluated with the same type of microscope analysis that they are analyzed with today.
To illustrate, here are a few "one more thing" products Steve Jobs, the mac daddy himself, introduced over the years:
Colorful iMacs - MacWorld San Francisco 1999
iPod Mini - MacWorld 2004
iPod Shuffle - MacWorld 2005
Apple TV - September 2006
Safari for Windows - WWDC 2007
It's all to easy to imagine how such product announcements would be greeted today.
Riding high on the success and immense impact of the iPod/iPhone/iPad trifecta, the expectations that shroud Apple are greater than they are for any other company. The result, arguably, is that when Apple fails to live up to these expectations at every media event, the takeaway is that the event was boring, a predictable dud.
2. The Apple rumor mill has removed Apple's ability to surprise us
There are no shortage of rumor-based Apple blogs that do a great job of keeping us abreast of the latest rumors and supply-chain checks. Though Tim Cook vowed to "double down" on product secrecy, barely a week goes by without some new rumor about Apple's iWatch plans or speculation regarding upcoming hardware.
As a result, one can reasonably argue that Apple media events have become somewhat boring and stale because we already know what Apple is going to say.
Take the most recent iPhone media event where Apple introduced the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 5c. Before both products were unveiled, we already had a pretty good idea as to what Apple's 2013 iPhone lineup was going to look like, right down to the fingerprint authorization sensor on the 5s and the colors on the 5c.
The gold iPhone 5s? Leaked photos of the device, not to mention the other models, leaked a few weeks before Apple officially introduced it. The slow-motion video recording feature on the iPhone 5s? 9to5Mac began floating that rumor back in July.
Indeed, the only things we typically don't know ahead of a new iPhone launch tend to be the pricing and the components.
Given the complexity and scale involved in getting a new Apple product to market, Apple is faced with the almost impossible task of keeping a tight lid on the entirety of its supply chain.
That being the case, if the public at large already knows what Apple is going to announce, Tim Cook could roll out on stage on a Segway while sporting a tank top and the presentation would still be underwhelming.
3. Tim Cook and Phil Schiller can't even come close to matching Steve Jobs' charisma
Due to the repetitive nature of Apple's presentations, Bilton theorizes that Apple's current executive team simply doesn't have the showmanship chops to make such events as interesting as they were when Steve Jobs used to run things solo.
Now there's certainly no denying that Jobs was a master showman. His iPhone introduction at Macworld 2007 arguably constitutes one of the greatest product introductions in history, even seeping into the mainstream. To wit, it was comically parodied by Tina Fey on 30 Rock.
So perhaps Apple's media events seem a little stale because Tim Cook, despite his Southern charm and Auburn football loving ways, simply can't hold a candle to Steve Jobs when it comes to wowing us with excitement.
Say what you will about Jobs, but the man could sell. Jobs possessed an "it factor" that simply can't be taught. He was charming, grandiose, persuasive, biting at times, and even funny. Can you even imagine Tim Cook introducing the original iPhone and prank calling Starbucks?
Same thing goes for Phil Schiller. Schiller, Apple's VP of worldwide marketing, is a decent public speaker, but he lacks the pizazz that seemingly emanated so easily and naturally from Jobs.
Jobs spoke his mind, wasn't afraid of offending, and was simply an entertaining guy to watch take the stage. Put simply, he was captivating.
That being the case, perhaps Jobs, a storied legend in Silicon Valley, possessed so much charm that he was deftly able to make the mundane seem exciting. Perhaps previous media events held during the interim years between major product announcements always seemed fresh and exciting because there was no telling what Jobs would do or say.
Now the one current Apple executive who seems to possess the "it factor" on stage is Craig Federighi. To be sure, he's a likeable guy who's quick with the jokes, but Steve Jobs he is not.
The ability Steve Jobs had as a presenter can be summed up thusly: When Jobs was alive and healthy, he handled 95% of the presentation duties all by himself. Without Jobs, presentation duties at Apple media events are often shared between as many as four or five people.
Long story short: perhaps Apple media events are in fact boring because there's no showman like Jobs in the mix anymore.
4. Apple media events are meant to inform, not entertain
Again, Apple media events do have a somewhat predictable pattern. An argument can be made, however, that Apple's media events are structured in such a way to inform the masses about Apple's latest hardware and software, not entertain Apple nerds faithfully following liveblog updates as fast as they can refresh.
So sure, we know we're going to see a video detailing the manufacturing process used in Apple's latest hardware. And of course, we're going to see a video detailing the myriad of creative ways in which people are using their iPads or iPhones. For anyone who makes sure to check out every Apple media event, the routine is old hat. But that routine is arguably necessary to get the word out about the latest and greatest from Apple.
The structure of Apple's media events makes it easy to divide up all of the announcements into compartmentalized reports.
In other words, the grand purpose of these media events is to provide an extensive, if not predictable, tour of what Apple has been up to. Form there, online and print publications distill the most important announcements into articles meant for mass consumption. You're not likely to read about Haswell chips and Iris graphics in the LA Times, but you are likely to see a front page story about how thin and light the new iPad Air is.
To that end, Apple's media events accomplish their underlying task, even if the events themselves are long, boring and predictable.
Another point to consider; many of Apple's announcements, while important, are only interesting to a small subset of users. If you don't use iMovie or GarageBand, for example, why would you care about cool updates to those apps? I mean, what percentage of iPad users really care about Apple reinventing the textbook? These announcements are a necessary part of Apple's media events but don't exactly keep folks glued to their computer screens.
5. Apple media events are, in fact, too predictable. It's time to liven them up!
Predictability is the mother of boredom. Routine is the antithesis of excitement. So yes, perhaps Apple's media events are growing stale. The entire format is the same time and time again and it'd sure be nice to see Apple mix things up.
Maybe switch up the presentation roles. Maybe introduce some fresh blood up on stage. Maybe Apple should shorten the length of their media events and keep everything to a tight 45 minutes.
What do you folks think? Are Apple media events utterly boring these days? Were they ever particularly exciting to begin with? Is this much ado about nothing? Please chime in in the comments below and speak your mind. Just try and keep it somewhat entertaining.
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