Five iPhone Launch Missteps: Has Magic Gone Offstage at Apple?

Where’s the story telling, Cupertino?

by: - Last updated on: September 22nd, 2017

Apple. When you hear that name (in a non-fruity context) and especially if you are into technology, software, and gadgets, some words spring immediately to mind – innovation, trend-setting, delightful user experience, perfection… to name a few. And then comes the imagery of people lining up at ungodly hours in front of their stores to be among the first to get an iPhone or whatever Apple launches.

apple launch event

But before all this occurs, the world eagerly awaits, year after year for the folks from Cupertino to take the stage and unveil the magic. Yes, MAGIC is what the fans, tech nerds, glittery geeky eyes look for. A magical launch is part of the Apple aura. That is a tradition that the legendary Steve Jobs established and a legacy he has left behind – the man bettered himself each time he took the stage.

It has, however, been a while since Jobs left the mortal world. And he left pretty big shoes (sneakers?) to fill – so big that not one but many are attempting to fill them. Just how well are they succeeding? How has Apple’s latest iPhone launch been? Would Jobs have done it differently? Are things better or worse? How much has changed? It would take a long time to answer all of those questions, but almost a week after Apple’s latest event, here are five areas where I feel the big A might have stumbled during its latest event:

  1. Where has that grand entrance gone? If you were to pull out some of Steve Job’s product launch videos, the instant he steps onto the stage, the auditorium hums with excitement and there are three things that stand out – a smile, the eyes, that walk. Beyond the warm welcome is hidden a mix of excitement, enthusiasm and eagerness to narrate a story to the people present there and to the world. A story of how the product was made. Trust me when I say this – I have been a Product Manager for more than a decade with more than a dozen product launches – this is what I live and die for at the same time. Watch Tim Cook, though, and the feeling that comes across is rather different, and not quite right. Perhaps he is an introvert, maybe he is not a sales guy, but there were times when we wished he would, for heaven’s sake, throw a smile! Fake it at least, for a million and more pairs of eyes are witnessing the event.
  2. Eyes on the audience, please! One of the most basic presentation tips that an expert will give you is NOT to merely keep reading things off the slides or the prompter. And even if you do, never make it obvious. These are meant to you guide you through the flow, help you in case you forget something. But look at how it turned out in the latest event – on more than one occasion, folks onstage were looking at the prompters rather than the crowd. Now, generally, this is a reflection of a lack of rehearsals. And we know Jobs used to rehearse and rehearse until he felt he had got it right. For, when you take the stage, it is the connections you make with the audience which is more important than anything else. We are not sure we felt it too often this time around, in fact, during the Apple TV 4K presentation, we almost felt as if some of the presenters had been forced to talk.
  3. phil schiller iphone 8
    Image: REUTERS/Stephen Lam
  4. Too many chefs spoil the broth? While everyone wants to take the stage and grab their share of the limelight, it is important that the number of speakers is kept at a minimum. Apple, for some reason, is getting crowded when it comes to this department – too many handshakes, too many relays. This causes a disruption, a discontinuity if you will, and attention plummets. For, each time that a new person comes onstage, it is a different style and voice and tone that the audience has to get used to, and boy, do we humans hate change. This really hampers the effectiveness of the presentation itself.
  5. How about changing the demo styles? If it ain’t broken don’t fix it – yes, we do get that, but it has been a while since Apple’s presentations set the benchmarks for other companies, so much so that everyone seems to follow Apple’s presentation styles. One Chinese gentleman even once dressed like Mr.Jobs! So, how about change, folks? The tech community is exposed to almost the same presentation styles no matter where they go for smartphone launches. Is it time to start considering shedding the grays and blacks? And how about some vibrancy, different presentation styles rather than just “x times faster,” “x times better” and so on.
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  7. From groundbreaking innovation to merely blending in! Apple was known for setting the trend. Remember that first iPhone launch? We all had goosebumps when Steve Jobs went into his “ it’s a phone, it’s a music player, its an Internet device” mode. He rolled the words thrice before the iPhone popped up. That was a moment that defined a big leap of many sorts – buttons did not have to come in the way of the screen, solving a big issue. Fast forward to the iPhone X, where Apple claims to have taken a big leap again. But has it? On the surface, it is merely blending into half a dozen phones that include Galaxy S8, Essential, Mi Mix and so on in kicking the bezels out. Yes, it looks fabulous, but what problem did it solve? And if it did, why was it not explained? We never got the feeling that we were watching something monumental. Or even startlingly different.

This is not a criticism of Apple, a company which we respect. The legacy that Jobs left behind is a not easy to carry forward. But it nevertheless is a challenge that the leadership needs to address. The products will continue to sell thanks to the amazing design, research, product and sales teams nonetheless. But for many Apple fans, the launch event too was a part of the package that provides the product. After all, that is where the inspiration starts, that is where the heart resides – to know why they did what they did.

Apple covered the “What” very efficiently at the recent launch. What we missed was the “Why.” An irony when you consider that this is one of the companies Simon Sinek referred to as among those that started with why!

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