In the technology world, being complacent is deadly. Something that's groundbreaking, revolutionary, or classic is inevitably tired and creaky just a few years later. As Steve Jobs himself preached, staying relevant is always about moving forward. At Apple's 2013 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) we saw Apple itself take a revolutionary product that's by many standards still the best in the industry, and change it into something new.
I'm not talking about iOS, although the rule applies there too--iOS 7 is the kind of move you'd expect for the company that replaced the iPod mini with the iPod nano.
I'm talking about tone, manner--the entire vibe--of Apple itself.
It was noticeable in the music Apple played before the keynote--hipper, younger, with fewer top-of-the-chart smashes and classic rock numbers. It was clear in the stage demeanor of Apple's presenters, not to mention the format of the keynote itself. This was the first truly post-Steve Jobs keynote.
Replacing the standard
It used to be that tech companies didn't do big standalone events to announce products or initiatives. There were press releases or maybe press conferences at the Consumer Electronics Show. The modern era of giant invitation-only extravaganzas exists because of the wild success Apple had with such events, led by its co-founder Steve Jobs on stage.
I can't count how many Steve Jobs presentations I've been to. The early ones were a little ragged, but for the last 10 or so years of Jobs's life, they followed a remarkably consistent template. The music, the occasional comedy bit from an outsider, a drop-in from Apple SVP of Worldwide Product Marketing Phil Schiller--I could probably write a book defining just what made a Steve Jobs Keynote what it was, but that's not the point.
The point is, when Steve Jobs left the stage, Apple kept soldiering on with the format. And quite right, too. Why mess with what works? But time has a funny way of dulling the cutting edge and turning dynamic personalities into historical figures. And at WWDC 2013, I saw clear signs that today's Apple is not afraid to get out from under the shadow of Steve Jobs's legendary keynotes.
A lot of the burden of the post-Jobs keynote era falls on Tim Cook's shoulders. Talk about your tough acts to follow. Cook's approach has been a good one, in that he's never attempted to be Steve Jobs. He doesn't unveil products himself, for example. Instead, Cook stays true to Cook. He's improved as a presenter over the years, to be sure, but his slow speaking cadence and role as Apple CEO position him properly as the guy who presents the big picture. Cook's role is to talk about Apple's vision and philosophy and not get caught up in the details. He's earnest, and I think it works.
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