The Pleasantville cheery, sanitized tone of the keynote clashes with Apple’s position as a global tech behemoth. Given the pressures of looming tariffs and trade wars, the event seemed, as the journalist Lauren Goode tweeted, “eerily calm. Like parents throwing a super chill birthday party for the kids when the marriage has gone haywire.”
Likewise, there’s some cognitive whiplash to this month’s reports (and Apple’s problematic initial response) that a major iPhone vulnerability targeted the Uighurs, the persecuted Muslim ethnic minority group, and watching Apple executives onstage days later gleefully trying to make to make slow-motion selfies — “slofies,” according to Apple branding — a thing.
As a luxury brand, Apple’s been accused of being out of touch in keynotes before. My former colleague Katie Notopoulos skewered the company in 2016 for appealing to the prototypical “40-something dad who just wants to FaceTime his adorable children while he’s on a business trip, and also find a local pourover coffee shop while he’s in town.” She dubbed this marketing amalgam, “Apple Man,” noting that the needs of this test audience often came at the expense of making the product more affordable or adding features aimed at the millions of loyal customers who don’t worship at the altar of inbox zero.
To its credit, Apple has taken steps to address a good deal of this criticism. Its keynotes now feature more women and people of color, and Apple has designed many more accessibility features (some life-changing) for users with different needs.
But even more inclusive products can’t fix the problem with recent Apple keynotes: The company’s flagship product — the iPhone — no longer feels like a piece of the future dropped from into the hands of mere mortals. It feels like, well, a phone, a commodity. And so the whole thing seems gratuitous, self-serving and, most importantly, quite removed from the very fraught relationship most of us have with our phones.
That’s part of why the keynotes need to end. Losing them doesn’t mean that the new technology isn’t impressively engineered (machine learning cameras!) or that Apple has failed. It’s probably the opposite. The iPhone set out to change everything, and it did. Mr. Jobs famously pitched Apple products with the line “it just works.” He’s right. It does. And we live with the effects — the good and the very bad — every day. There’s no more need for the song and dance — or Lewis and Clarking a digital frog across a bathroom floor.
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