Opinion

What does Apple have to do to recapture the magic?

5 min read

16 September 2017

The other night, I watched a two-hour Apple launch presentation with some colleagues, pizza and beer. You really do need beer to get through these things nowadays.

When it was all over, there was a unanimous feeling of “is that it?” circulating around the empty beer bottles and doughy remnants. It felt a little flat. A bit subdued. And they launched a lot that night: three new iPhones, a new Apple Watch and an upgraded Apple TV.

But it’s not just about the products – which are great. Maybe not earth-shattering like the first iPhone, but then what is?

It was just a bit boring. Ironically, my colleagues spent most of their time looking at their iPhones and only really got into it with Animoji. Apple struggled to recapture the lightning-in-a-bottle, zeitgeist moments it experienced with the original iPhone’s launch a decade ago. In my Twitter bubble, the general consensus echoed what we were experiencing. People had seen it all before, apparently.

So what’s the problem? Well first, Apple has set a high bar. A really high bar. Very few brands get to create an iconic product and even fewer can claim they’ve made more than one. Apple has created at least five: the Macintosh, iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad.

These products changed how we look at technology and how we live. It’s not practical or fair to expect this type of magic year-in, year-out.

There was the usual “changing the world/ this is the future” hyperbole, but the products  didn’t live up to the hype. How could they? Most were incremental improvements on previous products and the iPhone X, while a lovely-looking phone with great features, doesn’t have much that’s not out there already on different phones. There was only one person who could’ve landed this with excitement and passion.

This presentation was in Apple’s brand new Steve Jobs theatre, kicking off with words from the man himself. His message remains just as clear, passionate and charismatic as always, and that’s the problem. Jobs’ charisma was the engine driving Apple presentations. His ability to craft a simple story of need and fulfilment with an Apple product, and then linking it all to a higher purpose was truly unique.

Even if the product Jobs was selling wasn’t going to change the world, you believed in it because he believed in it. People forget the press slammed the iPad as just a big iPhone upon release. But we believed in Jobs and bought the iPad. They called it “The Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field”.

Apple executives are using the same launch format that was custom-built to his strengths. These are incredibly successful, intelligent people who run the biggest company in the world. But for two days a year, they’re also expected to be rockstars and it’s just not fair. There was only one guy who could do that.

For me, recapturing Apple’s fizz is as much about the launch as it is about the products themselves. If the company wants to stick to a two hour keynote presentation, it needs someone with Jobs level charisma and credibility. That’s tough, if not impossible. So what else can be done? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Pay top directors to make five-minute shorts on each product, and this is the only thing that is broadcast.
  • Make a classic tease-and-reveal campaign, but tightly control the flow of information to stop the mass leakage we experienced this time around.
  • Premiere products in a movie, released in theatres. An Apple product premiere.
  • Launch them in stores – or town squares, as they’re often called – and rely purely on social sharing from these live events.

Now none of these may be right, but the point is there are so many ways to launch a product. But play to your strengths. With their launch format, Apple is playing to Jobs’ strengths and sadly he’s not here to sell us the dream. Last night was a poignant reminder of that.

Martin Flavin is creative director at Five by Five