Rush to judgment? Nah. Not here. A week after Apple’s latest product unveiling, I’ve had time to let it stew.
I’ve also had time to play with the various bits of new software. Here are some random reactions to all of it:
Disaster! Apple didn’t revolutionize anything. True, but let us note that historically, Apple’s astronomical success has come from three places: its ability to revolutionize, its ability to improve upon the revolutions, and its ability to out-market its competitors. At this event, we got two out of three.
As Tim Cook noted, this was a repeat from this summer’s WWDC. “It does such an incredible job talking about our values,” said he. While many love this video, I’m not a fan of it. To quote from Game of Thrones, “If you have to say you’re the king, you’re not a true king.” Apple has in the past communicated its values more clearly than any other company — simply by producing great products and great ads.
Damn, he’s good. Everyone at Apple is smart, but being likable is a very different matter. Of all the presenters, Craig wins in this measure hands-down. Did you notice that when Tim yielded the stage to Craig, the superlative count dropped precipitously? While Tim incessantly pounds words like “amazing” and “incredible,” Craig cuts way back. As they say in the speaking biz, he’s a natural.
OS X Mavericks
So far, I really like it. I’m particularly enamored with Tabs and Tags. It’s great to have iBooks on the Mac now. And I truly love how Maps works so well between Mac and iPhone. Of course I’m also loving the things I no longer see — like faux leather stitching. Contacts and Calendar are no longer begging for a smile, they’re just doing their jobs quietly and efficiently.
Many have written that Apple’s new focus on “free” is a shot across Microsoft’s bow. That’s certainly true, but to me this also demonstrates one of Apple’s most powerful differentiators. That is, it is perfectly willing to forgo immediate profit for the sake of long-term profit — even though long-term profit must be taken on faith. Having worked with companies such as Dell, I know that projects are rarely approved unless they come with assurances of instant shareholder gratification. Steve Jobs was never so constrained. He was perfectly willing to invest time and money if he thought it would create more loyal customers in the long run, as free software should do. And yes, free software will also cause a growing number of people to wonder why they’re forking over piles of cash to Microsoft on a regular basis.
Pages = the new Final Cut Pro X
The new Pages is not just beautiful. It’s beautifully simple. It’s also significantly stripped of its higher-end features. This, of course, will bring back bad memories of Final Cut Pro X, which cut out a number of features that pro editors couldn’t live without. As a writer, I feel a similar sense of abandonment with this version of Pages. Outlining is one feature no longer offered, which makes it impossible for people like me to write a book. To me, Pages was the oasis of calm and reason compared to the mess that is Word. At this point, my only option is to stick with the old version of Pages.
Pages = the new Final Cut Pro X, Part 2
Irritating as this development may be, I get why it happened. Apple now has two suites of software — iWork and iLife — that work identically across Macs, iPhones and iPads. While this is admirable, it doesn’t make the subtractions any easier for serious users to swallow. Hopefully Pages will now travel the same path as FCPX, with its more sophisticated features being re-integrated over the coming months. I’m trying hard to be gracious — but I’m steaming on the inside. This step forward is a step back for some of Apple’s most loyal users.
Pages, the continued lament
I can’t write about Pages without once again complaining about the “Save As” situation. Apple eliminated this feature entirely when Lion shipped, then brought it back — kind of — with Mountain Lion. I say “kind of” because the command has been half-implemented, requiring one to hold down the Option key when clicking the File menu. Even worse, Apple’s implementation is at odds with common sense. Say I open a Pages document and make a bunch of revisions. Then I decide to do a Save As, desiring to keep the original as it was. Page’s Save As command will indeed create a new document with my revisions — but those revisions will also be auto-saved to the original document. To recover my pre-revision document, I must hunt through Versions. Without exaggeration, I think this is Apple’s most absurd interface change ever. The industry will never adopt this standard, which means you will forever have to recalibrate your brain when using Apple apps vs. everyone else’s.
If you want a living example of why Steve Jobs was so adamant about secrecy, this is it. Had we not seen the sneak peek at WWDC — Apple’s reaction to growing public criticism — this Mac Pro unveiling would have been absolutely mind-blowing. Of all the computer makers on earth, only Apple would put this kind of energy (and major bucks) into reinventing the pro desktop. Without the element of surprise, Phil Schiller’s presentation here was a bit more like filling in the blanks. It’s a shame. Because the “unsurprising” Mac Pro really is electro-shock therapy for the industry. It changes the way we look at something we’ve lived with for 30 years. Is it enough to change our minds about the way Apple has been treating the pro user? In some ways, yes. However, it’s more accurate to say it confirms the fact that Apple is redefining the pro user. Oh, and the “making of” video was very nicely done.
Tim’s iPad customer video
This was a terrific piece — a huge, sprawling, worldwide, emotional production. I can only imagine how much it cost to make. (Then again, with modern production techniques, one can never be too sure what is real.) More important, it conveys a heartfelt message about how iPad has become part of our lives. Lest we forget, the human connections presented in this video are what made Steve Jobs so incredibly proud of Apple. He loved that his devices could make life better for people of every age and occupation. To those who argue that this video says nothing we didn’t already know, I say “welcome to marketing.” Even in categories where products are basically at parity (like soft drinks), a great ad or video will always move the needle. The scale and quality of this video make you appreciate how iPad has changed the world, even if competitors’ tablets can be used for similar things. He who says it first, and says it better, will always have the advantage.
iPad Air name
The “Air” name was one of the few surprises of the show. If you care about such things, that is. It’s also a natural for the product, being so refined in size and weight. Its very name contains the marketing message. With this naming move, Apple now elevates the word “Air” to a higher status in its pantheon of product names, being used for MacBooks and iPads alike. It’s a very strong word — light, clean and descriptive, all at once — and is suddenly now more “owned” by Apple. As John Gruber pointed out in his recap, it also makes one wonder if this naming move might pave the way for an iPad Pro down the line. Such a thing really would make sense, as iPads become more and more essential in professionals’ lives.
iPad product video
I was once involved in an agency pitch to a pharmaceutical company. To convince our potential clients that they needed a fresh approach, we took the soundtrack for one typical drug ad and superimposed it over one of their own ads. The separate soundtrack and video meshed perfectly — because both spots were based on an identical, tired format. I suspect you could do the same thing with Apple product videos from different years. I have incredible respect for Jony Ive. I get that he’s not comfortable getting up on stage in person. But it’s disturbing that someone with such talent is becoming a parody of himself. And it’s more disturbing that Apple has allowed this to happen. Articles like this one are not at all uncommon these days. The solution for Apple is simple: be true to your creative DNA. Recently, news broke that Apple was significantly expanding its internal creative department. May that investment show up in future product videos.
iPad Air ad
On the other hand, “Pencil” (at the top of this article) is proof positive that Apple remains extremely capable of running a great commercial. This spot dramatically presents the thinness of iPad Air, as it beautifully describes the impact iPad has had in this world. Everything about this ad is great. Rather than just feature whatever music might be trendy, this commercial features a soundtrack that literally reinforces the concept, adding a touch of magic. The voice is unpretentious and human, and the words are meaningful. It’s one of the best spots Apple has broadcast in a very, very long time. Using this ad to close the show was an excellent idea. Far better than Elvis Costello.
Oh, right, there weren’t any. This wasn’t unexpected, but it’s worth noting — it’s the first time in iPod history that Apple didn’t deliver a holiday update. Thank you, iPod, for being the catalyst for a new, different and spectacularly successful Apple. But please go to your room and don’t make any noise.
“We still have a lot to cover”
It’s one thing to try to decode an Apple event invitation before the event, but the attempts to explain it afterward are particularly pathetic. Does anyone seriously think that the cover line was a reference to the new iPad covers? Apparently so. The line meant nothing more than what we saw — Apple presented a ton of new stuff, timed perfectly for the holidays. The fact that so many of these products are immediately available is an example of Tim Cook’s operational strength. I’d rather that he stick with this stuff than attend speaker’s training.
The boring Apple
Last, forgive me while I vent. According to some, Apple events have simply become unsurprising and lost their humanity — the antithesis of a Steve Jobs event. Of course there is some truth to this, but the fact is, Steve’s presentations have become even more legendary in his absence and comparisons are unfair. It should also be noted that Steve wasn’t any more successful keeping a lid on secrets as Apple grew bigger. I can’t even remember the last time he announced something we didn’t see coming. And I believe the balance of technology and humanity at this event was very much as it’s always been. Screens full of tech specs were always a big part of Steve’s unveilings, as were videos and ads showing the human side. So yes, I hope Apple finds ways to pump up the excitement level at these events — but the sky is not falling.
Far from it, actually. What I saw at this event was an Apple that continues innovating at a rapid pace — despite all the grousing that it has lost the ability to do so. Shortly after we got two new iPhones and a radically redesigned iOS 7, we now have OS X Mavericks, two new iPads, two updated MacBook Pros, new versions of iLife and iWork for Macs and mobile, and a revolutionary Mac Pro. We also saw a terrific ad for iPad Air that offers hope for future Apple advertising.
Bottom line: I’d be very surprised if the holiday sales figures didn’t cause a lot of merriment amongst those holding AAPL stock.
Tags: apple iPad event