What is Wrong with Apple Keynote Presentations?
I always look forward to Apple presentations and the WWDC, yet every time the presentations rub me the wrong way. Why?
Did you watch Apple’s WWDC 2021 keynote? Did anything bother you? Me too. Sure there was a lot of cool new stuff. In particular I loved the Universal Control. I so often wished I could just move my mouse cursor over to another device and grab what I want instead of setting up some kind of sharing, email myself or put in a dropbox. Yet the magic was gone and it has been for quite some time. Without Steve Jobs it is not the same. I am more likely to check of a Tesla or SpaceX presentation by Elon Musk.
This has made me reflect upon what exactly it is about Apple presentations that makes me roll my eyes? As an author I have worked with editors, and that experience has made me see more clearly what has gone wrong at Apple. You know what it feels like when you become part of a machine, with checkboxes to mark off.
Look at the presentations given at Apple by the likes Craig Federighi. They all follow the same corporate recipe. It is a formula. They will tell you to present material in a very specific manner. One punchline after the other:
- Tell the viewer about a feature and explain why they need this feature. What need does it address?
- Stay on message, no fun side tracks!
- Always be professional! Nothing goofy, silly or childish. Nothing offensive. In other words stay bland and tasteless.
A good editor make a big difference but there is a risk of too much streamlining. You end up with a cookie cutter presentation with no soul.
Thus all Apple presentations end up sound like a repetition of the same types of lines:
For many of us Apple product X has become indispensable.
This year we where inspired to create even more…. stuff … to help you… something … something.
This is the best product X, Apple has ever made…
It is all so damn predictable. It is the same praise about how they made the best thing ever in their history. How beautiful, crisp, delightful or whatever the whole thing is. And of course how only Apple can do this.
Meanwhile over at Tesla, Elon Musk is like, “Let’s throw a steel ball at the window and see what happens…” Moments later, the window breaks and Elon Musk exclaims, “Oh my fucking God!” It is the opposite of the scripted perfection of Apple. Elon Musk stutters on stage and his presentations sometimes fail in an epic fashion like with the Cybertruck demo. But what was the most fun to listen to?
Why are these unpolished presentations by a guy with self-proclaimed Asperger’s so much more enticing than the hyperpolished Apple presentations? Because they feel real, and not like a carefully rehearsed commercial.
I know Steve Jobs planned his keynotes for months, so it is not like they were spontaneous, but you knew it was heartfelt. He was really thrilled about what Apple made. Elon Musk may have a really different style, but this is what makes them the same. They are/were both thrilled by what they made and could talk for hours about how awesome the stuff they made was, if you only let them.
When No Negativity Becomes Negative
I think one thing that rubs me about modern Apple is actually the total absence of negativity. Okay, before you think I have lost it, hear me out. No normal human goes around beaming with positive energy constantly. Nor are extremely positive people very fun. Look at any entertainment or any quality comedy. Is it only about positive things happening and shiny white smiles? No, of course not. A good story is made out of contrasts. There are challenges to overcome, enemies to best. Inner demons to fight off. We humans are wired to love a good story. A good story has heroes and villains.
One of the fun things about Apple presentations and in the past was the little jabs at PC, Intel, and the rest of the competition. As tech enthusiasts that is what we lived for. Call it childish, but there is a bit of the same excitement as when you are cheering on a sports team. You need to flavor it with a little bit of trash-talking. All in good spirits, of course 😉
That is part of the fun among friends or family. A bit of banter and teasing. A family where everybody was talking about each other constantly in glowing terms would become a bit like a sort of Stepford wives horror show.
Modern Apple is just a constant stream of positive adjectives. There is no banter, no playful teasing, no jabs, just unrelenting positivity.
Or Is This Just Culture?
Of course. this may simply be me not “getting it.” As a Nordic I remember an American expat living in neighboring Finland joyfully express on a video-blog how being negative was totally accepted in Finland.
Maybe it is just a cultural thing. Maybe my gloomy Nordic persona that cannot deal with people who are constantly upbeat. Or maybe it is because, in my native Norway, we pursue honesty and humility to a fault. We simply cannot stomach bragging and boasting. You will find Nordics more eager to tell you what is wrong with the product that they are selling than what is good about it. It is simply feels more honest to talk about what is bad, as talking about what is good feels like insufferable bragging.
I have seriously gone into stores here in Norway and the sales guy has told me that the product I was looking at wasn’t very good and that the competition across the street actually sold a better model. That may seem insane, but it also kind of works. I remember thinking that next time I needed something I would go back to this store and ask their opinion first, because at least they told you the truth. Trust is an asset in any customer relation.
Cut the Professionalism?
Culture aside, if I were to give any advice or suggestions to how Apple keynotes could be more fun and engaging, then it would be to cut out the damn polished professionalism. I wish people would allow themselves to be a bit more childish. Look at Elon Musk. Yeah, it doesn’t always work out, but in general his childish enthusiasm for what he does rubs off.
A lot of the stuff Apple makes is really awesome and people should allow themselves to be a bit goofy. To play with it. Do silly stuff. Every sentence about some new feature does not have to end with some rational like, “This will make your workflows more efficient and streamline sharing.” No, cut out that crap. Just let people be wowed by stuff. You don’t need to tell people every single time why they need this particular feature. Just show how cool it is and most of the time people can piece together why this particular feature would make their life better.
Find Your Own Voice
Trying to mimic somebody else is usually a fool’s errand. You have to find your own voice. Apple is forever in the shadow of Steve Jobs. He was an amazing speaker who captivated the audience. Modern Apple thinks they can keep his legacy going by churning out little mini-Jobs. Presentations are like these bleak copies of the style Steve Jobs used. Don’t do that! That style was awesome for Steve Jobs, not necessarily for Craig Federighi. For Craig something else may work better. And chill, you don’t have to compete with Steve Jobs. When I complain about Apple keynotes, it is not because I want Steve Jobs’ perfection back. I don’t expect anyone to deliver it. It is just that trying to emulate Steve Jobs is more annoying to listen to than somebody just being themselves.
To Readers and Commenters
I really loved the comments you guys left me on this one. Some made me laugh out loud. Keep it coming! For new readers, you really got to check out the comments. There are some really funny ones, with points I wish I had written myself.