The Ritual of the Annual Apple New Product Event

Later today, Apple will go through the annual ritual of presenting new products, notably the iPhone. It will start with some sort of feel-good video showing how people make their lives better with the iPhone and/or iPad. Then Tim Cook will come on stage to rapturous applause, and will say how great things are, how much money Apple has paid out to developers. He won’t specify that Apple is paying out money that they collected for the developers, minus the company’s 30% cut, but will make it sound like it’s some sort of gift. There may be some photos of a new Apple Store somewhere with attractive design, the store populated by smiling minions with cult-like smiles on their faces. And there may be something about Apple’s green initiatives, how they use renewable energy, source materials responsibly, and so on.

But he won’t talk about how the company has reached a one trillion dollar market capitalization (although perhaps he will mention that; it is an important milestone), or how the company’s profits have been funneled into share buybacks that shore up the stock price, benefiting wealthy investors, how Apple is avoiding taxes through arcane schemes parking money offshore in shell companies, the fact that the EU is claiming €13 billion for back taxes, or how much money he makes as CEO.

Then it gets to the important stuff. These events are nothing more than two-hour commercials for Apple products. They cover some elements of the products that you wouldn’t put in an ad these days; some details about a new processor, video frame rates, 3D rendering stats, etc., details that the engineers like to tout, that don’t make it into commercials.

There will be a couple of demos, one of a game that is a good bathroom break for those watching at home as it drags on too long, and perhaps another for a graphics app or a virtual reality app. And something about apps for kids is schools; kids is schools poll well, make people feel like the company is a business doing good. These interludes give Apple an opportunity to bring onstage people from other companies, often non-white-male, to make the presentation look more diverse.

They’ll talk about the iPhone, they’ll talk about the Apple Watch – and how it’s making lives better – and they may talk about the Mac or iPad, depending on what they have to tout today.

There’s a logic to this: they want to present the new version of the biggest product – the iPhone – in time for people to lust for it for Christmas. The tech industry has gotten us used to upgrading our phones around this time of year, as most companies release new product in time for the holiday quarter.

But there’s a problem with these events. They bloated and overly grandiose. Under Steve Jobs, a natural showman, they were more interesting, and had a better rhythm, but under Tim Cook, who seems like a high-school principal leading an assembly, they come off more as a series of mini Ted talks by different Apple executives, each one devoted to a product. They have become formulaic, there is too much stuffed into their two-hour duration, and there are often products that are announced that slip.

It’s not that big a deal that the latest Mac Pro was only released in limited quantities “by the end of the year,” as promised, or that the AirPods were delayed, or that the AirPower “wireless” charging device is still not out; these are minor products. What counts is the iPhone.

It’ll be newer, faster, cooler, “the fastest iPhone ever,” which is something they’ve been saying now for ten years. It’ll be “magical,” it’ll have fairy dust and unicorn horn in its innards, and it’ll make everything so much better. Until next year. Then it’ll be last year’s model, old technology, not worth looking at.

And everyone will go home, the news organizations will write about it and talk about it (as will I, this being how I make my living). It will go on sale soon, probably on Friday for pre-orders, and people will trek to the Apple Store a week later to crowd around tables and buy their new phones, and Apple will rake in billions of dollars, and it will all start again in twelve months. The rich will get richer, and everyone else will pay more for their “magical” iPhones.