Sep 12

Observations on the iPhone 5 event

I’m a little late to this party due to travel. But here are a few thoughts about the Apple iPhone 5 launch event.

Tim Cook. I can’t fault any of his words, but I suspect that our friend Tim has been studying up with a speaking coach. And the instructions were: Be enthusiastic! Hit those adjectives with some gusto! Don’t get me wrong. Steve Jobs certainly indulged in an excessive adjective now and then, but he had a natural delivery. Tim really forces it, and it does wear thin. The best example comes at the end when he introduces The Foo Fighters. Way over the top.

Phil Schiller. Following Tim, Phil was actually refreshing. He’s not falsely animated, he’s just himself. A clear presentation of iPhone 5.

Mac or Macintosh? Near the beginning of the event, Tim says he’s really happy with “what we’re doing with the Macintosh.” I don’t believe Apple ever made an official announcement about using Mac vs. Macintosh, but I do know that there is no Macintosh in the product line anymore. I also know that way back in 1999, Steve Jobs told the agency he was shortening it to “Mac.” Others may not agree, but Macintosh sounds old to me. I use a Mac.

iPhone 5, the name. I was prepared to pounce if the new iPhone was named iPhone 5. Apple is big on logic when it comes to product names. Since iPhone is the last Apple product to sport a number, many thought it was a slam-dunk that this would simply be “the new iPhone.” However, I think iPhone’s situation is a bit different because three models are available simultaneously — 5, 4S and 4 — and they need to be distinguished. It would work today to have iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and the new iPhone, but next year they’d be screwed.

iPhone 5, the display. One of the things I like most about Apple is how they think long and hard about the way they innovate, and often create an unexpected-yet-superior solution. When iPhone fell behind in the multitasking department, Apple didn’t just join the pack — it created a way to park open apps in the background so they didn’t drain batteries like Android, but still allowed you to resume where you left off. Apple operated the same way in competing with “big-screen” Android phones. It remained true to the idea that the width of the phone was perfect for the human hand, increasing only the vertical measurement. It’s a more thoughtful approach than simply churning out a big screen. I’ll reserve judgement until my new phone arrives, but I like the philosophy of it.

iPhone 5, the rest of it. To make the display bigger, yet substantially reduce the thickness and weight, is a stunning achievement. When a new device leaves you asking “How could they even do that?”, it’s always a good sign.

The connector. The new connector has been criticized on two levels: people shouldn’t have to pay so much to buy an adapter for old accessories, and why was this even necessary? I’m with you on the cost. Apple should have more consideration for those who will need to buy one or more of these things. $10 for the MagSafe adapter was insignificant — but $30 for an iPhone connector adapter creates some ill will. As for the second point — we all do have to accept (and appreciate) the fact that technology evolves. That original iPod/iPhone connector was around for a very long time, and the new smaller, reversible connector is a definite improvement. It’s also necessary to work in slimmer devices. So I’m all for it.

Secrecy, or lack thereof. When Apple fails to surprise the technology press, less excited reviews inevitably follow. This is not only an absurdity, it’s a proven absurdity — since lukewarm reactions to the first iPad and the iPhone 4S turned out to wildly underestimate the devices’ popularity. iPhone 5 has gotten mostly favorable reviews and will no doubt be a huge, huge hit. However, most iPhone 5 reviewers feel compelled to point out that there were few surprises, and this is true. Given that there hasn’t been a truly surprising product launch for quite some time, we should probably conclude that it’s become way too difficult to keep a secret when (1) Apple has become a huge company, (2) the number of people with secret information inside and outside of the company has gone way up, and (3) there is now an army of journalists and bloggers devoted to ferreting out every last detail before it’s announced. We’re at the point where it would be surprising for Apple to pull off a big surprise. My hope that in the future, products will be judged on merit, not on the surprise factor.

The video. Phil Schiller introduced the iPhone video by saying “What would the best iPhone be without a killer video?” Any video about any Apple product is inherently interesting, because it gives us a polished look at the device as Apple sees it. But a “killer video” it isn’t. To say that Apple’s new-product video format is now well-worn would be an understatement. At every launch, I find myself wishing we might see something that actually breaks the mold. I’ll wish again next time.

Siri: a real feature yet? The video says “And now, Siri can do more for you.” During the event, there was no mention if Siri is still a beta product. I guess that means it is. But the longer this goes on, the more unusual it is. It’s unusual that Apple has made a beta product the subject for virtually all of its iPhone 4S advertising for a whole year. It’s unusual that Siri would remain a beta product even in its second iteration. It’s unusual that the Siri beta now appears in iPod touch as well. In a Pinocchio-like way, I suspect that Siri secretly wishes she could be a real girl.

The new iTunes. No snide remarks. It’s here, and I look forward to enjoying it. The Up Next feature looks cool, as does the Mini Player.

Ping. Anybody miss it yet?

iPod nano. I think nano gets the prize for Apple product most often reborn. Big, little, video, no video — nano has done it all. Now it’s got yet another new shape and video is back again. Very alluring (as it has often been before), but say goodbye to the iPod nano wristwatch business.

iPod classic. Gone? Or just doing its thing in the background as always.

iPod touch. Gorgeous.

iPod touch naming. Hmmm. Now this is a little confusing. On the slide shown during the presentation, we see that the previous iPod touch will continue to be sold, and that both are called “iPod touch.” A bit confusing, no? Can’t we put a “new” in there?

Superlative crisis. The products we saw were the “fastest” Apple has ever made. And the “most beautiful,” “thinnest” and “lightest.” Logically, this is hardly a surprise, as the new version of a hit product is required to be “the best version ever.” I’m not criticizing Apple, I’m lamenting the plight of the writer who has to describe such things. There are only so many superlatives in the English language, and Apple has been giving them a good workout over the years.

All in all, a solid show. Tim has settled into his role as master of ceremonies, letting others do the presenting, even when it comes to the headline attraction of the event. The analysts seem very happy, even though they were denied any big surprises. Or maybe it was the iPod touch Loop that put them over the edge…

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  • Guest

    Hey! I’ve read the six first chapters of your book now, and i’m very much enjoying it so far. It’s such an inspiration reading all the “behind the s

  • hkhermansen

    ..enes” stuff. Also, the whole simplicity concept is something so many people should learn from. Not only in business, but everyday life as well. Looking forward to reading the rest. Have a nice day!

  • Peter

    Ken, I agree with your comment regarding Tim Cook’s presentation skills … but still I admire him immensely for the fact that he IS doing a good job and is smart enough to do the introductions when necessary, but lets the team do most of the presentations. Probably it also proofs Tim does not really want to be in the limelight (or thinks he’s not really good at it). Phil Shiller though is less natural compared to previous keynotes/wwdc’s , he seems a bit stressed to me (I dont blame him). Still would love Sir (!) Jony Ive to do a part of the keynote presentation. The guy has charisma, and it seems everybody has a great liking to the guy…. Perhaps Jony, doesnt want to be in the limelight (except from promotional videos)….

  • Personally, I was hooked until the Foo Fighters came on. I understand that Apple’s thing is to do a live performance at a music event (even though this was really a combined event), but THREE songs? LOOOONG songs? And that ridiculous introduction of Cook’s. They’re not the Beatles, the Stones, Dylan… they’re not even Nirvana. Even if you like the Fooies, the performance felt awkward and out of place. A poor way to end the show.

    Oh, I could probably do with fewer shots of Al Gore chewing gum.

  • Tom

    Nothing about the music guy? He was so mono-boring I didn’t bother remembering who he is, so lets call him the ‘Lumbergh’ of Apple, yyyyyea…

    Disappointed about the FooFighters decision, they’ll probably be on jeopardy sometime next week. Who’s show haven’t they been on in the past 2 years?

    Jony is busy settling into his new home, he’s a star, you’ll only catch him on the big screen.

  • ksegall

    Thanks! Glad you’re liking it.

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  • jayparry

    Mac or Macintosh – probably just left over way the old timers say it… but there was also iPhone 5/iPhone 6 mistakes and those are real screw ups! I think the whole thing could have been reversed with incremental updates on Music first and build to the Phone. It sucks that Phil basically revealed the biggest thing the first minute with no build up. The touch got too expensive and naming is confusing. The nano should have stayed a watch with the new one as a ‘mini’. (or they could do a ‘mini touch’ running iOS and apps to increase iOS footprint?) i ‘ping’ my friends on Spotify all the time… sending them tracks and mixes… this is what Ping should have been but very much wasnt. finally, as far as secrecy, apple has dug their own hole here – their launches for so long were about steve unveiling an incredible secret revolutionary ‘one more thing’… it will take a while for us to not expect that, but it sucks the the same journalists who dig up every secret are surprised when there are none left…

  • Jorge

    Ken , the iphone 5 will bring 1 adapter so you can use the old devices. You only need to buy more if for some reason you have fixed connections that you also need to use and don’t want to carry the adapter around. (cars come to mind).


  • ksegall

    Actually, it appears not! http://engt.co/QhGiM9.

  • Jorge

    Well , i was mislead :) The fact it ships with USB adapter makes sense.In Europe all manufactures signed an agreement to use USB, as port for charging as a standard, and Apple signed as well. Would be nice tough that they could ship both.
    Back on topic now , the new ads from Samsung are in my opinion a mistake but who knows …


  • Way to drop the ball and hammer on Apple’s consistencies and growing inconsistencies Ken. I can’t agree with you more… and from someone who also religiously follows Apple’s product videos, I am also waiting for them to “break the mold”. Still wishing.