Oct 13, 2020 - Technology

Apple's events aren't what they used to be

Photo: Apple

Photo: Apple

Apple will introduce its latest iPhones today using the same format it has employed for more than a decade: a dedicated press event with executives touting how much better the new product is than all the ones that came before it.

Reality check: Apple events aren't nearly as exciting as they used to be. That's especially true since they've gone virtual during the pandemic. But a number of other factors also keep today's hourlong commercials from being as compelling as they used to be.

  • No Steve Jobs: Jobs had a number of irreplaceable qualities, including his impeccable sense for what customers would want to buy and his ability to bend entire industries to his will. Also unmatched were his showmanship skills, where the "reality distortion field" Jobs was often described as casting was in full effect.
  • No surprises: When Apple was primarily a computer company, it could often keep new products under wraps, meaning the events often delivered the unexpected. In the smartphone era, almost everything leaks ahead of time — in part because of all the testing and certifications the devices need, as well as the huge volumes in which they are produced.
  • No "one more thing": Apple is probably right not to overuse this Jobs trick. But it's been a while since the company ended one of its events with an extra little (or big) something that no one anticipated.
  • Everyone copied the concept: The special event approach probably would have gotten old even if Apple was the only company doing it. But these days, most of the tech industry — including Samsung, Google and Microsoft — uses Apple-style events to debut new products.
  • It may not even be live: At least before the pandemic, Apple's events were the first chance for reporters to get their hands on products and share their first impressions. Virtual events don't offer that opportunity — and they are increasingly including prerecorded material.

Yes, but: Let’s be clear: These events were always formulaic.

  • Steve Jobs would start with a series of statistical updates before offering usually modest software introductions and then moving on to the key hardware news and, quite often, ending with “one more thing.”
  • It was a magic act that, over time, became a predictable ritual.

Flashback: For more than two decades beginning in the mid-80s, Apple introduced most of its products at Macworld Expo, a twice-a-year event run by IDG. Apple announced in 2008 that Steve Jobs would stop giving keynotes and the company pulled out of Macworld Expo shortly thereafter, leading to the conference’s demise.

  • Since then, Apple has largely relied on its own events for all major product releases, with smaller announcements coming via press release.
Go deeper