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Apple's events move on, and so does the company

Jason Snell | June 12, 2013
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.

The other presenters provided a nice contrast to Cook. Phil Schiller was a mainstay of Jobs keynotes, essentially Jobs's sidekick. At the WWDC 2013 keynote, he was probably looser and feistier than I've ever seen him on stage. "Can't innovate any more, my ass," he said, addressing Apple's critics head-on. Steve Jobs would often take shots at Apple's competitors, but Schiller was directly addressing Apple's critics, and doing it with attitude. These are words of an Apple that's confident but not above the fray.

And SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi, once visibly nervous onstage, has turned into a guy who works the room like a veteran stand-up comic. (I practically expected him to start calling out city names in order to elicit applause from the audience--"Who's here from New York City?") It's easy for these Apple keynotes, especially in the absence of Jobs, to come across as somewhat soulless dispatches of marketing messages from on high, adjectives like "magical" and "amazing" fluttering down on us as the great company presents its latest bit of perfection.

Humans, not wizards
Federighi's willingness to go off script and show some humanity (and humility) broke down a lot of those barriers and got across what Apple wants to come across: that Apple is not a company run by magicians who work in secret to bestow miracles on people. Instead, in its custom keynote video and its new TV ad, we're seeing an Apple that wants to be understood as a bunch of hard-working human beings who just want to make the very best stuff.

It's part of the tonal shift that came with the release of the Photos Every Day commercial. There, too, Apple is emphasizing the personal, human element, with technology only as an aid.

There were some other change-ups in the keynote that were welcome. Instead of a parade of (mostly high-profile) developers doing lengthy app demos, there was a single demo. It was early on and a little weird, but then it was over. The pace of the entire program was steady. Features were introduced and quickly demoed--sometimes Jobs-led keynotes would linger too long over a favorite minor feature.

This keynote was packed, two hours that were on message and brimming with content. It was quite a contrast to Google's three-hour keynote at its developer conference, which was unfocused and too long. Apple's keynote left all sorts of details on the cutting-room floor; parts of Google's presentation seemed to be from internal product groups that wanted the spotlight but didn't actually have much to say.

This is the new message
Apple's fans and critics will find much to debate about the substance of the presentation, but one thing is indisputable: Apple is changing its approach. The way it represents itself to the public has changed. The products it announced on Monday included some bold strokes, from the name of OS X Mavericks to the bold redesign of iOS 7 and the wild new look of the Mac Pro.

 

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