What happened to Jony’s voice?

Ben Franklin said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Until last week, I would have added “Jony Ive product videos” to that list.

Apple had a formula for these videos and it wasn’t about to budge—beauty shots and engineering animations, accompanied by Jony’s intelligently philosophical voice.

It’s gone on for so many years, I’ve actually lost count.

It’s not like the videos didn’t work. Apple sales certainly never suffered. It’s just felt odd that a company that puts creativity front and center would become so formulaic.

But all that changed last week when Apple unveiled two new videos—for MacBook Air and iPad Pro—and we didn’t hear a peep from Jony. I’m still recovering from the shock.

Thank the marketing gods for giving Apple a much-deserved kick in the butt.

You might not remember, but many moons ago Apple actually made very different product videos. Rather than just talk about its own genius, Apple would give celebrities in various fields a pre-release product and let them talk (rave) about how it changed their world.

We saw famous musicians talking about their iPods, editors and directors talking about their movie software and acclaimed designers marveling at the new power Apple had given them.

Those videos were fun, exciting and educational. They were also aspirational. They made us lust after the products because they made it clear how these products might actually change our lives.

Somewhere along the line, the Jony videos became the beginning and the end of the thinking.

Jony himself is not boring. Far from it. He is unique, eloquent and supremely talented. It’s the format that became boring. It’s been boring for so long, I got bored whining about it.

As the story goes, Jony has never been comfortable on stage. Only rarely has he been a featured presenter at Apple events, even during Steve’s time. Videos were the perfect solution because they allowed Jony to be in the limelight without physically going there.

So this is a seismic shift. Jony’s voice is either on hiatus or it’s been retired. The question is—are the Jony-less videos better or worse than the old formula?

Personally, I think Apple has gone sideways. The new videos do the job, but I can’t say they’re an improvement. At their core, each is still just Apple patting itself on the back for creating something so cool.

One of the laws of advertising is that other people saying great things about you is vastly more effective than saying these things yourself. By this measure, the new videos don’t substantially change Apple’s approach.

The MacBook Air video is essentially a Jony video without Jony, voiced by Senior Product Manager Laura Metz. Apple seems to be making an open effort to expose more of its executives, especially female. That’s a good thing, but as a voiceover, she’s not an improvement over Jony.

The iPad Pro video replaces Jony with Phill Schiller. For some reason he’s not identified like Laura. With Phil, the video can have a sense of humor, which isn’t Jony’s strong suit. Not hah-hah funny, more of a gentle-wink kind of funny. It’s mainstream humor, absent the sharper wit of an earlier Apple.

“Going mainstream” is actually a core complaint of long-time Apple users. We want Apple to be a big company, but we don’t want it to act like one.

Neither did Steve Jobs. He’s the guy who proudly proclaimed that Apple was “the biggest startup on earth.” He wanted Apple to grow, but he wouldn’t allow creativity to be diluted as often happens in big companies.

Ever the optimist, I will take the new product videos as an encouraging sign. They show that Apple is willing to shed a tired format, whether they succeeded or not.

Between Apple’s agency and its in-house creative teams, surely Apple can create exciting product videos without falling into another dull routine—or slipping back into the old one.