Too many cooks
In the years that I've been covering Apple keynotes, I don't think I've ever seen an event where the presenters were this relaxed--or this assertive. While there's no doubt that the late Steve Jobs was a master showman, and he certainly enjoyed poking fun at the press or Apple's competitors from time to time, the other executives invited to the stage often seemed to dwindle in his presence.
Not so on Monday. In fact, CEO Tim Cook was the most reserved of the bunch, resigned as he was to repeating many of the company's numbers and milestones, as well as commenting on the company's big-picture view. Instead, we got the surprisingly dynamic duo of Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, and the veteran Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, who appeared on stage to demo software and hardware announcements, respectively.
Apple's new software engineering chief, Craig Federighi
Apple's new software engineering chief, Craig Federighi, took on the biggest role in Monday's keynote, introducing new versions of OS X and iOS.
Not afraid of shooting back at competitors--Schiller's "Apple can't innovate, my ass" comes to mind--Apple's keynote presenters also took plenty of shots at the company's own recent decisions, especially the skeuomorphic trends that dominated some earlier releases.
"Game Center...we just completely ran out of green felt," quipped Federighi about the redesign of Apple's social gaming service. Likewise gone is Calendar's leather stitching, and Newsstand's wood shelving--which, as Federighi noted, "has to be good for the environment."
Overall, there seemed to be a more harmonious--even buoyant--mood pervading Monday's keynote announcements. It's the kind of attitude that comes with a clear sense of purpose.
Though it's only been nine months or so since the unceremonious departure of Apple's previous iOS head, Scott Forstall, a lot's been accomplished in that time. Forstall's removal has seriously changed the creative equation inside the company, and, in retrospect, it seems almost obvious that there were simply too many cooks in Apple's kitchen. The company does its best work when it's unified in its mission, and the one-two punch of Federighi and Apple's design guru Jonathan Ive appears to have the company firing on all cylinders.
Tim Cook's Apple
There's also been a lot of talk over the past few months that Apple is behind the game, that the company has lost its innovative drive since the death of Steve Jobs. And while there will always be those who argue that Apple's best days are behind it, after Monday's presentation those folks have an uphill argument ahead of them.
Like many other companies, Apple undergoes a tonal shift every few years, revamping its marketing, its aesthetics, and even its terminology. (Just think back to the transition from candy-colored Macs to monochrome black-and-white Macs to the aluminum-and-glass Macs of today.) That's clearly happening now--just look at the company's latest commercials, culminating in the one that Tim Cook showed off at the end of Monday's keynote. This is an Apple's that talking about the experience of technology. That's not a departure from the Apple of yesteryear, but it does put the emphasis on it in a different way--it wasn't that long ago that Apple ads rarely showed anything but the product itself; now we've gotten 180 degrees to ads that show people and just hint at a product.
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