So much gloss. So many words. So much sudden diversity, too.
It’s as if, at Apple’s latest — and surely greatest — event, Tim Cook and his cohorts wanted to present a whole new picture and hope that no one could see the canvas had merely been painted over.
Won’t you look at that midnight green?
When the sales shtick is so hard, so relentless and even includes two separate segments featuring — gasp — gaming companies, you have to take a little time to consider the reality of what you’ve seen.
This time, I can’t help thinking that the illusions — oh, let’s call them lies for fun — were a little grander than usual.
It surely takes the hubris of a particularly twisted world leader to send out an invitation emblazoned with the headline: By innovation only.
It sets your audience up for something breathtaking. Or at least memorable. Or at least surprising to the eye.
Instead, what Apple presented was a prosaic album akin to all the ones in history that were demanded by the record company.
Yeah, I know we said innovation, but that was damn autocorrected. What we meant was enervation.
None of what was presented was insultingly bad. It was merely insultingly dull when considered against the promise of the invitation.
But that wasn’t the biggest lie offered by Apple.
Some have wondered whether the format of the event itself is one big retrograde expression of blind mendacity.
Mused The New York Times columnist Charlie Warzel: “The entire event is at odds with our current moment — one in which inequality, economic precarity, and populist frustration have infiltrated our politics and reshaped our relationships with once-adored tech companies. But it’s not just the tech backlash. When the world feels increasingly volatile and fragile, it feels a little obscene to gather to worship a $1,000 phone.”
I’m not sure obscenity is something America can ever come to wholly dislike. It often seems that we’ll only gather in large numbers when there’s the promise of something at least contentiously lurid.
There is, though, a certain truth in the notion that Apple’s idea of reflecting the current moment is dropping 50 bucks off the price of the latest expensive phone, releasing a relatively cheap iPad and expressing its true magnanimity by giving anyone who buys a new gadget a year’s free subscription to Apple TV+.
There’s a natural tension between an imperiled environment and a company that wants to put more pieces of metal into it.
There’s something almost painful about a company that acts as if everything is swimmingly delightful in the world when it clearly isn’t.
Yet perhaps the real issue is that Apple is too closely in harmony with our times.
Which brings me to Apple’s biggest lie.
It’s the lie the company keeps telling itself.
It’s the lie that allows Cupertino to believe that all it has to do — the only thing it can do — is keep on selling in exactly the way it’s done for the last decades and everything will be great. So great.
It has to have a show. It has to have the same sort of show at the same sort of time. And it has to overpromise.
In many ways, this lie is a precise exemplar of our times.
It’s the lie that allows Apple to not think twice about claiming innovation. It’s the lie that allows the occasional very poor product to emerge — such as the last MacBooks — and still, Apple tries to deny, deny, deny until it finally does something about it. And, even then, it never says candidly: “Wow, we really made a mess of that, didn’t we?”
Does that remind you of anyone currently in the news?
It’s all fun videos and magical revolution all the time. Especially when there’s no revolution there. Apple spent quite some time last Tuesday peddling features painfully familiar to Android users.
Wouldn’t it be uplifting if, just once, Apple downplayed its new wares? Just a little. Or perhaps presented them in a way that didn’t always hum the same upper-class QVC tune?
Thinking (And Selling) Different.
Imagine the worldwide palpitation if Apple simply released some new phones without the show and any invitation to innovation. They used to call that a surprise.
You’ll tell me Wall Street would be upset. I’ll tell you those money-mad instant reactionaries — as well as everyone else — would be stunned by Apple’s boldness and immediately concoct creative ways they might be able to make money out of it.
After all, if you’re being truly innovative do you always present your wares in exactly the same way? Do you always have to force the belief that this year’s products are such a complete improvement from last year’s? Aren’t you beginning to sound like a car ad?
Moreover, who wouldn’t mind a little honest sincerity for a change, too? We have so little of that right now.
These are times of such nauseating fakery that a little true perspective might appreciate and, too often, Apple finds that so very hard.
I was moved last year, for example, when a tired-looking Samsung CEO DJ Koh offered a moment of actual candor: “It’s not easy every year, frankly speaking.”
Ah, that cycle. If only Apple and Samsung could get out of the saddle.
Koh wanted to subtly acknowledge that the latest products may not have been quite as good as in previous years and that the company was feeling the pressure.
What if Apple skipped a phone cycle and focused on delighting its customers a completely different way? Would the world collapse? Or would the anticipation of genuine surprise increase?
You might say this is all our fault. We expect too much. We want the show.
But is that to a large extent because, with its hard, hard sell, Apple incites us to expect too much, um, innovation?
Cook is, in so many ways, an admirable CEO who’s managed to navigate political waters with inordinate skill. Would it not be possible to navigate communicating with consumers beyond the Communist Party-style annual acclamation-fest constantly entitled How We Made Apple Great Yet Again For The Hundredth Year?
After all, even Amazon has these chest-beating events now. If that doesn’t tell you they’re passé, I’m not sure what does.
Last week, the great author and quite a wonderful tweeter and retweeter William Gibson offered some words for our current times: “As much as I identify with those suffering from impostor syndrome, it’s important to remember that so much of the world’s trouble is caused by those with the diametrically opposite condition.”
Go on, Apple. Show us a different path.