“It’s time to shine!” wrote Linda Yaccarino, the CEO of Twitter, on the day of Apple’s iPhone 15 launch event. She added a camera emoji and a popcorn emoji, showing that she was gearing up for the big show. She posted this around 10 minutes after the event had ended.
Some might interpret Yaccarino’s now-deleted tweet as typical of Twitter under Elon Musk: a bit late and missing out on a few million ad dollars. However, you could also view it as a witty comment on a rather uneventful Apple product launch that had just concluded without much excitement. Is that all there is? When does the real show begin, Tim Cook? When can I grab my popcorn?
Apple keynotes, at their best, are like mini Super Bowl events for tech enthusiasts and media. We come together, enjoy snacks, and cheer on the smallest advancements in the world of technology. We don’t even mind that we’re essentially watching advertisements. We’re here for the memes, the fan debates, and the “are you not entertained” vibe. We’re also curious to see if Apple will acknowledge its flaws: discontinuing products and features, high prices, and the constant introduction of new accessories.
Steve Jobs, who always wanted to end a keynote with a surprise music performance and didn’t shy away from poking fun at tech companies, including his own, understood this very well. The tech press would gather in his theater, and there was an electric excitement in the air, with everyone eager to see what he would unveil and say.
Under Tim Cook, Apple keynotes became smoother and more predictable, especially when COVID forced a shift to pre-recorded presentations. However, they still provided their fair share of entertaining moments, from light-hearted fun on 4/20 to the amusing antics of Craig Federighi, Apple’s software chief.
But in September 2023, Apple seemed determined to replace the fun with self-promotion. The iPhone 15 launch began with a lineup of people whose lives had supposedly been saved by Apple features like SOS calling and heart rate detection. This not only delivered a blunt marketing message – buy an Apple Watch or face the consequences – but it was also becoming repetitive. Apple had sprinkled these stories throughout recent launches, and now Cook was emphasizing them even more.
It’s not as if Apple lacked impressive new features to showcase. The September event started strong with the introduction of “double tap,” which allows you to control the Apple Watch Series 9 without touching it. You can now manage music, alarms, timers, phone calls, and more by tapping your fingers in the air. It’s a remarkable feature, akin to something from a science fiction movie, and it doesn’t require an expensive headset.
Apple vs. Mother Nature
However, “double tap” marked the beginning of a series of diversions that left viewers tapping their fingers in boredom. The most elaborate of these was a sketch where Octavia Spencer played Mother Nature visiting Apple HQ to discuss the company’s commitment to becoming carbon neutral by 2030. While this goal is commendable, the sketch’s execution was among the oddest attempts at greenwashing in the corporate world. The supposed joke was that Mother Nature was skeptical of Apple’s climate efforts, while Cook and his team were hopeful they could impress her. Yet, Apple couldn’t resist handing out brand new iPhones to everyone in the scene, including Mother Nature’s assistant. So, is she now a hypocrite?
This isn’t to diminish the progress made by former EPA head Lisa Jackson in recycling, reducing electricity consumption, and planting trees. However, labeling the Apple Watch Series 9 as the company’s first “carbon-neutral product” stretches the definition. It also overlooks the most environmentally responsible approach, which is to avoid buying new gadgets whenever possible.
Suggesting that Mother Nature approves of Apple is a reminder that the company still contributes more than 20 million tons of CO2 emissions annually. Self-congratulatory comedy isn’t as entertaining as Tim Cook might believe.
Overwhelmed by Details
From that point on, the keynote inundated us with technical specifications. We were meant to be impressed by the increased number of nits (a unit of light) on the Apple Watch Series 9. But what does that mean for the average consumer? The same goes for details that made the iPhone 15 seem underwhelming, with colors appearing oddly washed out on the new Pro model.
Delving into chip speed, frame rates, and titanium construction processes might work at Apple’s WWDC keynote, where the audience consists mainly of developers who obsess over such stats. However, this was Apple’s fall product announcement, aimed at convincing more casual fans to request the latest iPhone for the holidays.
But even casual fans couldn’t ignore what Apple wasn’t mentioning. The event tried to present USB-C charging as a hot, highly requested feature for the iPhone 15 (and the new AirPods). However, we’ve become wary enough to realize that it means our lightning cables are now obsolete, unless we’re willing to shell out $29 for a lightning-to-USB-C dongle, another detail left unmentioned.
The list of unannounced changes goes on. The new customizable side button was celebrated, but the loss of the sound on-off slider button marks the end of analog buttons on Apple phones. The iPhone 14 Pro was conspicuously absent from the Apple Store, leaving the iPhone 15 Pro as the only official Pro option, and it wasn’t even available for pre-order yet. This is something worth noting!
What’s yet to be seen is whether this underwhelming event will have a negative impact on Apple’s stock, as Tuesday’s market performance suggested it might. We also wonder if Apple will hold a second fall event to showcase the iPad and whether that will offer more of the excitement we expect from these gatherings.