⌘ December 29, 2023

The Too-Slick Apple Event’

M.G. Siegler started to raise my hackles when he wrote on his 500ish blog about how Apple’s latest iPhone event cemented his feeling that the pre-recorded keynote video missed the mark — not in content, but in format:

Since the pandemic, I’ve been a fan of Apple’s production of these events. They took their signature staged hoopla started by Steve Jobs and packaged it into something that could be consumed even when people couldn’t crowd around a stage. In some ways, they were better than the events of yore. Certainly more inclusive — in every meaning of that word — and a more fluid way to showcase product progressions. But as I was watching Tim Cook and company on stage — but not actually on stage, mind you — yesterday, I couldn’t help but feeling a little… empty? Everything looked good. But it just didn’t feel right. There was a tangible lack of tangibility. And thus, a lack of excitement.

You see, my initial reaction to this article was that while tech pundits might be getting bored of Apple’s new” (three years old) keynote style, it’s not their goal to entertain writers and YouTubers — it’s to sell their products. And I have to believe that the slick videos, seamless demos, and tightly-edited scripts are a more efficient way of showing off the new products and their features.

But then Siegler reeled me back in with this observation:

Case in point: after the keynote opened yesterday with a (truly moving) video about how Apple’s devices have literally saved lives, we cut to a pre-recorded video of Cook in the middle of Apple Park. As we just saw, nothing is more important than helping save lives.” I don’t think Cook is insincere in saying that, but it’s such an awkward, canned delivery that it feels flippant. Because he didn’t just watch the video alongside us, he was in Apple Park a few days or weeks ago, filming his lines. If he were delivering that line on an actual stage, live, he might emote and connect more directly with the audience.

And I think such connections would work for many of the product unveilings too. This was the not-so-secret secret of Jobs’ stage presence in these events. They worked so well because he was clearly excited about the products. And he conveyed that sincerity masterfully, live. It’s human nature that if you’re watching someone show enthusiasm about something, as long as it seems sincere, it’s going to rub off on you.

And this one:

And I’d like to show it to you now,” Cook says at one point leading into an iPhone unveil. But again, he wouldn’t actually like to show it to us now as he speaks those words in real-time, because he wouldn’t be showing us anything for days/weeks yet. It simply cannot be a sincere statement.

So, now I’m all conflicted. On one hand, I like watching the heavily-produced keynotes and do believe that they help Apple tell the story that they want to tell. Which is, objectively, the whole point of them. Plus, they’re technically and visually stunning. But Siegler makes a compelling point that having a live audience adds gravitas to the message being delivered. But it’s not because we need the will it fail?” tension for demos — that misses the point. No, it’s knowing, even as someone watching the keynote through a screen across space and time, that it was delivered to a live audience. That the presenters were actually presenting to someone that adds that special sauce.

Does that knowledge that the introduction of a product was done live instead of solely in front of a camera compell more people to buy Apple products? I’m not sure. But I do think it leaves a more lasting impression on those in attendance, and those people might then do a better job than they otherwise would have to spread the word and help Apple sell more products.

This may sound like the opposite of what I argued just a few months ago — that Apple should do these videos for every product roll out. But I think that’s still true. I think anything Apple has released that was previously done via press release should get one of these videos now. But for the biggest events — the iPhone event and WWDC, with maybe one more event sprinkled in some years — perhaps a return to the stage, the live stage, is warranted.

Well done, Siegler, I think you’ve pulled me aboard.

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