Few days back, Apple officially confirmed that it’ll be holding an event at its Cupertino campus on March 21. A few years ago, such an announcement would have triggered reckless speculation, with people racking their brains to come out with what they thought the big A would be showing off on stage on that day, Well, it does so today too. To an extent. But instead of speculation that seems to cover everything from the ridiculous to the sublime, there is an increasing level of confidence among the forecasters. It is almost as if the whole business of predicting what Apple will do has gone from staring at crystal balls to checking out television.
If that sounds a bit extreme, you just need to check different sites for their predictions (ours are here, incidentally) and you will find a consistency that is borne out of something that is close to certainity. Everyone and their grandmother (unless they work at Apple) is certain that Apple will release a new version of software for the Apple Watch, a smaller version of the iPad Pro (which some have already christened the iPad Pro mini) and well, most notably, a smaller iPhone (which has been called everything from the iPhone SE to the iPhone 5SE).
Such certainty was a rarity about a decade ago, when you never really knew what Apple would come up with. And even when you had a fair idea (hey, most pundits were spot on about the iPad and iPhone), you never really knew what spin Apple would put on the product. Yes, many people had speculated about Apple coming out with an iPhone but not too many had got predictions about the interface and specifications right. The same was the case with the iPad – yes, almost every one was certain that Apple was going to come out with a tablet, but details about its implementation were sketchy and marked with uncertainty and almost everyone got flummoxed by its price. Even when the design of the iPhone 4 had been so famously leaked, people still did not know what would be inside that design and how it would work.
And it is this uncertainty that allowed Apple to deliver those jaw-dropping moments on stage. And it is this very uncertainty that seems to have gone missing of late. Far too many people accurately predicted not just the design but also the innards of recent Apple devices, be they iPhones or iPads. There have been devices like the MacBook that have surprised pundits, but by and large, Apple seems to shed its mantle of secrecy and has become, well, just a bit more predictable than it was.
We know the Jobs fan brigade will jump in and blame Apple’s CEO Tim Cook’s regime for making Apple more “predictable,” but that would be a tad too simplistic. After all, what would Apple gain by removing the element of mystery and surprise from its events. And to be fair, even during Jobs’ reign, a certain pattern had established itself – we knew certain events would be about phones, notebooks, iPods or even tablets. And yet, one has to concede that Jobs did manage to conjure a rabbit out of his digital hat again and again. Was it a flair for the theatrical, or cult-like secrecy around products that enabled it? We know not, but what we do know is that Apple events somehow don’t seem the same without it.
Yes, the company is much bigger now and deals with far larger volumes, which makes secrecy all the more difficult. And yet, a predictable Apple event is a bit like a Lionel Messi run without a classy step over or a shoulder drop. Or like the Godfather doing business minus the option of Offers That You Cannot Refuse. It is very effective. But it is also routine. So much so that perhaps the most mysterious thing about an Apple event is its invite, which is analysed to the nth degree. But no longer to try and spot something exotic, but to simply get it in line with one’s own predictions. Because those predictions have been getting increasingly accurate of late.
Yes, we know that Apple is in a business and not in theatre. And that the company is more dedicated to making revenues rise than making jaws drop. But come March 21, there will be many in the crowd of Cupertino willing Tim Cook to surprise them.
For Apple has not always been about the products.
Or even (no matter what the financial gurus say) money.
It has been about mojo.