On Wednesday of this past week Apple™ held its much-anticipated annual roll-out of new products and features to the Apple lineup. However, this latest presentation caused more head scratching as well as out right consternation than any in recent memory. There was one other, but I’ll get to that later when there’s more context as to compare.
Whether it be within the confines of media reviews or tech blogs. It seems almost to a person the reaction to this latest event was anything but celebratory. Rather, the overarching theme revolved around the questioning of: Did they just witness the initial confirmation that many have pondered now these last few years. i.e., Has Apple lost, or, is rapidly losing their soul/spirit of innovation? Or, just the outright feeling of confirmation: without Jobs – Apple is an also ran.
Like many I too was flummoxed when watching the event. However, unlike some I saw things a little differently. What I saw; and the way I saw it, I’ll illustrate, as well as counter how I believe many of the obvious missteps, as well as outright blunders were made should have been handled and addressed differently.
Although I’m going to address my assertions through my business eye (for that’s what I do professionally) as if I were called into the board of Apple in a hypothetical sense and asked my opinion. I want to make sure it’s known for the record I could be what one considers an Apple “fan boy.” I use their products near exclusively and have great respect for the company. Yet, much like if I saw a family member doing the obvious wrong things; being openly harsh, critical, or straight forward in that criticism doesn’t mean any lack of respect. Quite the contrary.
So first things first: For the first time since the inception of these stylized “Event” roll-outs one thing was clear to almost everyone that viewed it. The “presentation” along with its cinematic star quality infused theatrics more often than not didn’t help nor bolster the products or presenters. Again, for the first time that I can remember – it actually seemed to take it away.
A few things were obvious. One of these is the incessant use of the glorious styled verbiage made famous by Apple when trying to invoke awe inspired anticipation. The problem this time were the products they were introducing. There were obvious trip wires that needed to be addressed that one could see for miles. Yet, it seemed as if Apple was going to pay no attention to them and roll them out because “They’re Apple therefore you’re going love it.”
The Apple Watch™ fits into this category probably more than any other. The problem? It seems the push is to present the watch as a fully formed device which it clearly is not. Yes there is the nod that more and more applications are forthcoming. However, it is quite obvious the main focus is all too centered on fit and finish. The push about what band one can now choose and the on, and, on aspect of the details of these bands subliminally pushes one to assume – I guess that’s all they have to show right now.
I believe the watch will be a great product in the future. And it’s easy to understand it’s a work in progress that needs to be out in the public a little before prime time as to see just where the market wants to take it. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That said, the more that Apple makes this almost sycophantic push towards fit and finish currently? It doesn’t hide or subvert its obvious current limitations – it pushes them more into the fore front.
If you wanted more proof of the “We’re Apple therefore you’re going to love it” attitude that I believe allowed for the lack of self-awareness to see obvious issues or miscues. All one had to do was watch the introduction of the Apple Pencil®. It went something like this…
Ladies and gentlemen. May I draw you’re attention to the big screen behind me and behold. Never before in the history of mankind has such a device ever been thought of by mere mortal man. Ladies and gentlemen I introduce to you – the pencil!
And there on the screen stood what at first blush was a representation of the one thing Jobs railed against: a stylus. You could hear either a collective chuckle or, YAYYYYyyyyy….wait a what? The set up for this product buzz-killed its own introduction.
Another was when the new IPad Pro® was revealed to show it with its newly designed specific keyboard. What seemed at first like thunderous applause drifted quickly to be silenced by the obvious knee-jerked gasp when the big screen showed what everyone instinctively recognized as a product resembling what no one seems to use or want – a Microsoft Surface®.
These weren’t the only missteps – just the most obvious. A few others? Well, there was the “let’s show you just what you can do on this fantastic, great, super, stupendous, mind altering, supercalafragilous new product. We’ll start by bringing on our next guest speakers from – Microsoft. Even the crowd within the center went speechless. It was a clear awkward moment. Again, all self-inflicted.
Think about it. Within the span of a few minutes a new product was introduced that for all intents and purposes can really be a game changer with applications for both personal as well as enterprise use never before available to Apple. And within the course of those minutes did nothing but leave the impression this great new product has a stylus, and a keyboard configuration that looks all to close to a Surface; and cemented that impression with introducing none other than a Microsoft representative to demonstrate how Microsoft Office™ will run on it. Again, think about that. And as bad as that progression was – it was enhanced. And not for the better in my view.
The next guest or representative in the line up? Adobe™. You know that company which right before Jobs passed was still calling them out for shipping lousy software. One silently wondered if Pages® or Keynote® were going to still run on Apple products because other than what seemed as a hat tip to Garageband®; one was left feeling unclear. And remember, this is Apple’s premier event! The missteps as to the attention to detail of presentation flow was nothing less than stunning. I personally can not remember such outright blunders in previous roll-outs. And I was not alone, for what I heard from others who just wanted to see what was new reacted in ways I previously never encountered.
Here was my first confirmation that it wasn’t just me. All the above overshadowed what has been the usual star of these events: The iPhone®. Nobody that I talked to could even remember what new innovation or updates were made to the newest version. All they seemed to remember was there’s now an “S” version, but other than that, it was all about “What is up with that new iPad?” Or, “A stylus?! Are you kidding me? A freaking stylus?!! WTF is up with that?!!!”
And that seemed to be the cumulative summation I distilled from both my personal exchanges, as well as what I’ve seen in both tenor and tone reported almost everywhere.
This is, and should be taken by Apple as a clear warning sign this bruised “Event” could be the one that spoils the “whole bunch” going forward. The event showed to my eyes in stunning clarity that Apple delivered this presentation via the viewpoint and execution of: We’re Apple – and you’re gonna love our new products and upgrades because – we’re Apple, and we’re saying so because – we’re Apple.
Again, whether intentional or not. Too my eyes, it was a clear illustration of: Rarefied air has become breathing one’s exhaust fumes.
Now here’s where I take a different tack from everyone else: Personally, I believe the upgrades as well as new products are noteworthy. It’s all about the delivery as well as introduction I take issue with. And this area of difficulty is a first for Apple. How they mange their way around as well as through this obvious debacle will be one of Apple’s greatest challenges post Steve Jobs in my view. For perception is just as big as product to no other company as it is to Apple.
So that’s my descriptive view. Now let’s delve into the prescriptive.
Right off the start let’s address the greatest of overhangs that is not, nor will not, go away unless Apple itself stops trying to push it themselves: Tim Cook is not, nor will he ever be seen in the same light as Jobs. Period, end of story. Not by anyone at Apple itself, nor the public at large. So stop trying. Again, period. It’s hurting Apple’s, as well as Mr. Cook’s image, more than it’s helping. So again – stop. Please for the love of humanity – just stop.
Although I don’t know Mr. Cook personally I’m sure he’s a great guy, and we know he’s a competent executive for he has done some great things since Jobs passing in helping to lead and maintain Apple’s core structure. We also know Jobs had great admiration for his executive qualities. However, no one can replace Jobs. And the more one tries (or desperately hangs on to the idea) to replace rather than move forward is in effect moving backwards. This is why the more one tries – the worse the comparisons fester. And Apple seems to be trying far, far, too hard in this one area alone.
Let me use an analogy based in music as opposed to strictly business: Van Halen didn’t “replace” David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar. Sammy Hagar, nor the band, tried to be Van Halen with Sammy acting as a stand in replacement for Roth. Same can be said with AC/DC. Just like with first example, after Bon Scott there truly was no replacement. So they didn’t. They added Brian Johnson and the rest is history. Whether you liked or disliked the new band was exactly the point. Van Halen as well AC/DC were: a new band, and they weren’t afraid of the comparisons. They took them straight on and made no bones about it. This allowed the band to be its own force while still paying reverence to previous milestones without any regards to “What would David or Bon do?” Apple needs to apply the same or they’ll never get out from under “What would Jobs do?”
I’ll use as proof for my assertions using a current screenshot I took from Apple’s own public webpage:
(Photo Credit: Screenshot taken of Apple’s public home page)
Why my criticism? First of all: It has nothing to do with Mr. Cook personally. The issue is: it shows or implies just how tone-deaf, blind, or nervous Apple is becoming. Apple seems to be bordering on desperate as to be trying to create a replacement figure, and it’s now far too striking as to evade the inserting for subliminal comparison (whether intended or not) of Cook as Jobs. And far too many have an instinctive gut reaction too it. And it’s not in the affirmative.
Jobs was, and always will be, the comparison to these events as well as “the face” of Apple. Now and for the foreseeable future. If the solitary person in this type photo is not Jobs, it should only be the closest thing possible to him; and it’s not a person – it’s the product or the logo. Anything (or anyone) else stands right out as “trying too hard” in pushing a narrative. Since the passing of Jobs no person for the immediate future will meet the mark. The only “one” that can is – the product/products themselves. Anything less hurts the image as well as brand of everyone involved by my calculations.
I believe unlike many (and I’ll wager it’s the Board itself that is the most confused on this subject) the more Mr. Cook removes himself as “the face” of Apple and puts forth the product as “the face” the more Jobs-like Apple remains in the public eye, as well as the lessening of many of the unfair comparisons Cook as well as Apple has to constantly dodge or defend against. This is where Apple is being its own worst enemy. They desperately need (as well as want) to move out from under the Jobs comparisons as time and products march on. Yet, it seems Apple itself is the one unwittingly making that trek all the more harder.
Then there were the introductions of new or improved products. Here there were far more miscues as well as missteps than I can remember. So I’ll take just the one’s that are in my front-of-mind.
First there were the transitions from introduction to video presentation. In a word, for someone who understands the importance of theater and seamless transitions: They were horrible. Apple once excelled at these – until recently. At this event? They were clumsy allowing for misconceptions to fester. No, not in the content and production value of the videos themselves. It was in the hand-off from presenter to video. They simply just didn’t flow.
There was no better example of this than when the Apple Pencil® video was shown. Personally I cringed. The video’s introduction did not match the content. The content was great, but you were trying to get over the idea that this was not a stylus – first. And it felt that way. For anyone paying attention this was an obvious flaw. And it was obvious the one’s who should have been paying attention (i.e., Apple) were not or could not see it.
The attention to details such as this was always prominent and seemed to never be lost on Jobs. However, at this event it was conspicuously not there.
And while we’re on it let’s talk about the Pencil. Not only was the roll-out worse than bad. It actually may have set back the whole adoption cycle months if not years just based in ridicule. For nearly everyone remembers one of Jobs’ strongest arguments against anything was – the need for a stylus. And the way the introduction of the Pencil was presented did nothing to alleviate that memory. In fact, it brought it out front-and-center. It’s a shame because the Pencil truly is so much more, but again, the presentation did little to change that initial perception.
It would not have been hard to take this issue head on and maybe have some fun with it. Make it their own post-Jobs product launch he would be proud of. It could have easily been done in my view if the obvious hurdles would have been addressed right from the get go, rather, than trying to act as if no one would remember the past. The diametric forces of awe-inspiring and ridicule enforcing left it up to the product itself to overcome them. A tough task when everything is running perfectly. Quite another when it’s happening within obvious missteps or miscues.
An easy way to have overcome many of the obvious would have been to remind people of a few things like: When Steve was around one thing he was not afraid to do was to change his mind if one could prove that he should. (which he did many times, but you had to prove it first to convince him, not just express or think that he should) Steve would tell anyone who asked “As soon as you need a stylus you lose” and we still believe he is right. That’s why we don’t and won’t make one. So today I introduce to you a technological instrument so advanced we gave it the only name that could match it for context, simplicity, and ease of use. Ladies and gentlemen I introduce to you today – the Apple Pencil.
It took me no longer to think of the above than to type it. It’s not perfect, but it’s far better from what was presented. i.e., act like no one’s first reaction will be: It’s a stylus! Again, this is a detail I believe would have never been allowed circa Jobs. It was far too obvious for initial reactionary ridicule. Yet, that’s exactly how it went off.
Then there was the other obvious calamity. The gut reaction to the iPad Pro with its new smart cover keyboard. Again, here we saw Apple acting as if it there was no such thing as the Surface. It was breathtakingly tone-deaf for what would be the obvious reaction. You almost could feel the collective gasps worldwide through your monitors. Again, I personally was stunned on such a misstep.
My argument is this all could have been so easily addressed and possibly as I’ve stated again, and again, been a turning point in the post Jobs era. And in a good way.
If the new IPad had been presented differently showing its new size and features for general use as associated with the current versions only. They did some of this but it was far too little. What they should have done was introduce and infuse with a little more depth some of the new features and reasoning why a physical keyboard will be necessary for upcoming partnerships with new collaborative partners such as those announced with IBM™ and highlight it with more detail. People get that.
Say things like: As game changing as the iPad was to the home and business we’ve discovered there more possibilities than ever, and these possibilities demand two new features unparalleled by any other brand today. First, with our larger screen size new enterprise functions and uses are now available that were not conducive to previous iPads. Although the bigger screen allows for a more natural feeling keyboard we know by listening to all of our customers they want an Apple designed and built dedicated IPad removable keyboard. I’m here to tell you, we heard you – and we listened. And so I introduce to you today, what at first may look like another brands however, I respectfully say: It is anything but – and here’s why…”
Instead the keyboard attached version went up on the big screen and did nothing but put front-of-mind “what the heck is that? A Surface?! That’s the new thing?!!” The following dissertation felt like Apple believed customers had never seen a similar product. No matter how well crafted and design specific for IPad this new keyboard is. The timing and delivery for its introduction, like the Pencil, was a self inflicting buzz-kill for it. I say again, this all was so blatantly self-inflicted it was painful to watch from my view.
One place that has yet to lose its luster, or fall into the lame, are the informative product videos showcasing Jony Ive. Here is where the Apple of yesterday still shows through today. Even though Ive is not shown there is gravitas in voice and reputation for we all instinctively understand many of these products are associated with his creative vision much like Jobs. However, these unlike the “Event” shake free of the post-Jobs gravitational pull. Why?
The product is the feature – not a person. It’s not lost on anyone that Ive is still responsible for the products creative attributes. But it does one thing that Apple Inc. itself has not yet learned. It allows Ive and the product to stand on their own in a post-Jobs world of Apple. And I believe not only are these displaying a tenor and tone Jobs would approve of, I believe they are showing the way Apple itself needs to start addressing this issue far more head on than seemingly trying to either avoid it, or push a persona in the fear of they don’t know of any other way. That way is right under their own noses yet, they seem somehow patently blind to the obvious.
Apple isn’t about Jobs anymore. He’s gone, and he’s not coming back. And the more Apple tries to fill that void, the deeper and wider the chasm becomes to fill by their own hand. Apple is no longer about a person – it’s about the product. And the product is the only thing capable of bridging that gap or hole left with the passing of Jobs. And the sooner Apple realizes it, and takes that to heart. The faster and better both Apple, their products, as well as the management and employees will be. Where they can all get back to doing what Jobs would be the most concerned with as well as probably proud of. i.e., Running a great company steered by smart people creating insanely great and revolutionary products second to none.
And as for that only other “Event” I mentioned at the beginning? I could think of none other than the one that caused an even more visceral knee jerk reaction than the one hosted by Jobs himself. That event?
One of the first where he introduced none other than Bill Gates on the big screen as a new partnership between the two rivals. Again, Jobs could have easily tried to hide the fact or, never speak about the collaboration he made with Gates at the time. There possibly was no worse time than then to even discuss such a possibility; never mind an already done deal. Yet Jobs did just that. Jobs instinctively knew – you can’t hide the 800 pound gorilla or act like it’s not there. You have to get past it one way or the other come hell or high-water. And they did just that.
Again, the lesson for Apple today is right there in the Apple of yesterday. All they have to do is look. For the only thing in my opinion holding Apple back from moving forward and beyond – is Apple itself.
© 2015 Mark St.Cyr