If Apple’s keynotes were a film franchise, they’d be playing to empty theaters by now. Things were pretty innovative at the start, to be sure, and the return of the main protagonist after years in exile was something to be celebrated. But in the past few years, his successors have put in performances so formulaic that seasoned members of the tech press can probably predict what puns Tim Cook will break out on the day.
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The latest event threw out no surprises: there was a watch that we all knew was coming, a slightly lighter, slightly thinner (gold) Macbook, an iOS update, and some pretty neat healthcare stuff. It’s hardly likely to inspire your inner child now is it?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure everything Apple announced tonight will be very good — at least as good as their competitors — but the sense of thrill and excitement that was once there is very much gone.
It’s all a bit inevitable. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the headline TechCrunch — a site not exactly known for its harsh stance on Apple products — used in this article about the Apple Watch.
Then again, Apple probably couldn’t care less about the fact that some people found today’s event a bit samey. It’s found the formula for success and it’s going to ride it as far as it can. That’s how you become the first US$700-billion company on the planet.
Still, I can’t help feel a little sad.
Yes the new gold Macbook may, at 900g, be the lightest ever made and thin enough to make 90s era supermodels jealous. And yes, it’s probably powerful enough to edit the next James Cameron epic and solve global warming at the same time, but it doesn’t exactly scream “design icon”.
Just compare its aesthetics with those of the original “lickable” iMac. It looks like the kind of pointless executive toy American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman would own.
Stop the clocks
And if Mr Bateman wanted a bespoke timepiece to go with his new Macbook, it seems Apple could provide that too.
The Apple Watch, which was the star of today’s event read, allows you to read email and answer calls to your iPhone right from your wrist. So far, so similar to every other smart watch out there. It’ll also tap you whenever there’s an important notification (something that’s bound to get annoying pretty damn quickly), let you make payments, and allow you to send the rhythm of your own heartbeat for reasons that have yet to be adequately explained.
Like the TVs in 1984, it’ll encourage you to try out new forms of exercise on a regular basis. Unlike the TVs in 1984 it comes in range of prices.
At the bottom of the range is the US$349 base model ranging all the way up to the US$10 000+ plus models “crafted from custom rose or yellow 18-karat gold alloys”. The latter are clearly aimed at people who’ve run out of imaginative ways to blow through their family fortunes.
If, sometime in the near future, you see someone trying to pay for a latte with a ridiculously expensive-looking wristwatch, avoid them. Trust me, it’s for the best.
ResearchKit: a silver lining on a very dark cloud
Based on the new Macbook and Apple Watch alone, it would be easy to write Apple off as a company that’s decided to abandon any signs of actual personality in favour of profit. Thankfully though, it also announced the launch of ResearchKit during today’s event.
ResearchKit is an open source software framework designed for medical and health research, helping doctors and scientists gather data more frequently and more accurately from participants using iPhone apps.
Yup that’s right: the company that pretty much defines the phrase “walled garden” has released an open source product and one that could genuinely help people at that.
In fact, Apple claims, World-class research institutions have already developed apps with ResearchKit for studies on asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.
Noble a cause as ResearchKit is though, it’s unlikely to really be appreciated by the wider public. It’s also not what you’d call “fun” and is hardly likely to spark a revolutionary new approach to product at Apple.
And that just about sums up the trouble with Apple launches these days. The sense of fun, that anything is possible, has gone missing. Heck there wasn’t even an awkward appearance by an aging rock group to spice things up this time.
Of course everything Apple launched today will sell well and, apart from the new version of iOS, it’ll probably all work pretty well too.
But while Apple is building products that are designed to sell well and keep shareholders happy, its competitors are taking moonshots. And when one of those ambitious, improbable gambles pays off there’s every chance the leadership at Number One Infinite Loop won’t have a clue about how to catch up.