Apple is in a bit of a pickle.
For years now, the company has held wildly popular media events to show off its latest products and software. At times—such as the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 or the iPad in 2010—these events have felt momentous, and have, in fact, heralded huge changes in the consumer electronics market. The events are part of the company’s identity. Bits of the showmanship popularized by Apple’s late cofounder, Steve Jobs, such as his “one more thing” line, are well remembered. And Apple-style product events have been aped by many other companies.
But these days, just before Apple’s 40th birthday (which falls on April 1), it’s harder to get the feeling that Apple events mark the start of something huge, even though Apple continues to hold major ones three times per year (usually fall, spring, and in June for its Worldwide Developers Conference). At an event Monday on the company’s Cupertino campus presided over by CEO Tim Cook, the biggest news was a smaller iPhone, the iPhone SE, which with its four-inch display is essentially just a throwback to the iPhone 5 in terms of its form; on the inside, it’s much the same as the iPhone 6S. It starts at $399 for a version with 16 gigabytes of internal storage space.
So that’s great. Smartphones have for the most part been getting bigger and bigger, but not everyone wants a handset that can hide the profile of one's face. Had the iPhone SE been available a few months ago, I might have urged my husband to buy it; he spent weeks searching for a smartphone that was not much bigger than his old iPhone 4S with its even more diminutive 3.5-inch display. And yes, the iPhone SE is a beautiful handset. It’s speedy, it's bright, and it feels great in my hands. I’m sure Apple will sell a lot of them, and plenty of a new iPad it introduced, too.
Still, I’m not convinced it was necessary for people to come from all over the world (literally—my seatmate said he works for a Russian news outlet and is based in Moscow) to learn about such incremental changes and updates. Really, a press release and some high-resolution images would have sufficed, and that’s what most companies would do.
But not Apple. It’s not the company’s style. And at this point, after so many events, it would seem very strange and bad if Apple announced a new iPhone or iPad with just a press release. So I think Apple should just hold fewer events, in hopes of building up more excitement. The last time I truly sensed this was in September 2014, at the launch of the company’s first smart watch, Apple Watch (see “The Apple Watch May Solve the Usual Smart Watch Annoyances”). That’s a long time ago.
Perhaps a change of scenery will help. Apple holds some of these events at a theater in its corporate headquarters in Cupertino, California; Cook said Monday’s event will probably be the last product introduction there because the company is moving to futuristic, doughnut-shaped digs nearby next year. “We expect that we’ll have many, many opportunities to have you join us there,” he said.
The novelty of a new campus won't last long, though, as long as Apple remains a company in an incremental-update phase. That’s okay, but it makes it difficult to justify big events.