If you haven’t done so in awhile, watch Steve Jobs present the first ever iPhone in 2007. In spite the hardware specs that have long been obsolete, it’s still one of the best instructional videos on how to deliver a keynote address at an event of consequence.
Fast forward eight years, and Apple still announces products in the same way. Large, dark theater. Chief executive on stage. Elegant, text-light slides on movie screens. It’s all still there.
And in most instances, it’s kind of boring.
As this article illustrates, Apple’s most recent product announcements feel to some like a let down. We should attribute some of that “meh” vibe to a relative lack of substance. After all, there are only so many revolutionary unveilings on a par with iPhone or iPad. Using the same event playbook to announce incremental changes of the sort Apple announced this month feels off.
If you watch the most recent product announcement, you hear the speakers compensating for this by using press release speak: Tim Cook “couldn’t be more excited” to be on stage. He has some “monster” announcements to make, whatever that means.
Everything is “incredible.” The company has had an “incredible” year. It is on an “incredible” pace of innovation. The larger iPad has an “incredible” display that is “incredibly” detailed. Watching movies on it is “incredible.”
Never mind the numbing effect of repeating the word. It’s also the wrong word to repeat. Incredible means “not believable.” It’s not a suitable replacement for the adjectives that would have been better applied in these circumstances:
The company had a “record-setting” year
It’s on a “breath-taking” pace of innovation
The iPad has a “vibrant” display that is “finely” detailed
Watching movies on it “makes me feel like I’m in the film”
A lot of Apple’s announcement fatigue problem is a product of pure inertia. It’s an unvarying reliance upon what the company did the announcement before, and the one before that. Perhaps it’s an homage to Jobs, the man who innovated product debuts in this manner and has since been copied by tech companies all over the world.
Either way, here are four ways Apple could breathe new life into its events.
Leave Silicon Valley: International markets power much of Apple’s growth. Its brand has international appeal. Steve Jobs hated to fly, but that’s moot now. Tim Cook should introduce his new products in London, Shanghai, Sao Paulo, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Dubai, and Johannesburg. Imagine the local reaction he’d get. It would bring back the same electricity Jobs mustered in 2007.
Celebrate its users: Apple’s TV commercials like this one show actual videos taken by their users. The company should take a similar approach at its events to showing actual users in these markets improving their lives using Apple products. It would reinforce that Apple has become what we used to say about Nokia: it’s the world’s largest local company.
Modulate the volume: Save big, theatrical events for revolutionary products. The company should still invest in announcing its marginal improvements, but marginal announcements warrant a more modest approach in order to preserve the gravitas the company needs for its blockbusters.
Give the starring role to people other than Tim Cook: Check out Apple’s events page, and you’ll be shown a wall of screenshots of events dating back to 2013. Each one features Tim Cook. He’s a gifted speaker and an able spokesperson, but Apple has no shortage of developers, ecosystem partners, fans and employees who would help Apple feel more relatable.
Most companies would love to have Apple’s problems, including this one. It’s a penalty for having done things so well. The need to innovate and “do things differently” goes beyond Apple’s products, though. It extends to its events, too.