Apple is Missing its Core

This week Apple announced its next generation of iPhones, a new digital wallet, and Apple Watch.  But it was the way they introduced these products that left me feeling far worse than just disappointed.  I felt used.

I was on a plane during the announcement, so I had already heard what devices had been announced when I queued up the presentation online later that evening.  Nevertheless I was still excited to watch the unveiling and learn about the devices – especially the Apple Watch. 

The first thing that struck me was that they were presenting in the Flint Center.  This is where Steve Jobs unveiled the Macintosh Computer in 1984 – which forever changed the computing industry. 

This is also where Steve Jobs unveiled the iMac in 1998 – marking the beginning of Apple’s amazing resurrection and success story.  So clearly they felt that what they were going to launch was worthy of comparison to the first Macintosh and the rebirth of Apple.

The actual presentation starts out with a cold, disconnected marketing video.  It was neat to watch, but it just felt so impersonal and stark. 

Tim Cook goes through the iPhone 6 and 6-Plus phones, iOS 8, Apple Pay.  They all feel like reactionary and me-too features and benefits, and the presentation feels tired.  Here’s a feature, it’s just wonderful.  Here’s a benefit.  It’s simply amazing.

Then we get to the Apple Watch.  I’m hopeful that this part of the presentation makes everything else worth it.   

The Apple Watch presentation starts off with another marketing video.  It’s a very pretty watch.  But I can’t help but feel like it was introduced to me by the Marketing Department.  Clearly Apple has a massive budget for making product introduction videos. 

I’m not feeling a personal connection to the device. 

From there it gets worse.  Tim Cook discusses the history of User Interface revolutions in their digital devices.  The Mouse for the Macintosh, The Clickwheel for the iPod, and Multi-Touch for the iPhone.  He then points to the crown – the wheel on the side of your watch – as the revolutionary new User Interface. 

I’m sorry but there is nothing revolutionary about a wheel stuck to the side of a watch that changes things on the watch.  It’s novel, but certainly not revolutionary.

Instead of having Johnny Ive come out on stage and talk about the watch, they show an 11-minute-long video narrated by Johnny Ive.  It’s a well-done video, but it feels impersonal and boring.  The design-speak is completely over the top.

The rest of the Watch features are nice – Kevin Lynch does a good job of explaining the main features benefits of the watch, and the fitness video is nice. 

And then finally.  The most awkward part of the presentation comes when Tim Cook and Bono from U2 have some sort of weird finger-kiss moment.

There was no person-to-person emotional connection anywhere in this presentation. 

Tim Cook didn’t connect with me on an emotional level – except that I felt bad that he will forever be compared to the greatest product evangelist ever.  But that’s forgivable because he effectively runs one of the largest companies on the planet. 

Johnny Ive didn’t connect with me.  He was hiding behind a marketing video.

Kevin Lynch and Phil Schiller didn’t connect with me.  They’re great guys who know how to demo the features and benefits of their devices.  But not evangelists.

Apple makes some of the most beautiful technology products on the planet – and they’re not afraid to tell you that in their marketing videos.  But the core of their message feels cold and disconnected. 

Steve Jobs was more valuable to Apple as a Product Evangelist than he was as an executive.  This was true with the Macintosh back in the 80s, and is becoming apparent again in the 2010s. 

They are missing that personal connection between the person with the vision and the customers who want to share that vision.  They’ve tried to fill that personal void with beautiful marketing materials that attempt to illicit all of the same emotional responses.  But it just doesn’t work for me. They feel more and more like Microsoft, Google, Samsung and every other tech company out there. 

They feel like a company, not a cause.

Apple is missing its core, and I’m not sure they’ll ever be able to get it back. 

Overall I felt used during after this presentation.  They harkened back to the glory days of Apple’s big User Interface Revolutions and the world-changing product launch of the Macintosh.  They streamed the multi-million-dollar videos on-stage.  They had Bono from U2 put a song on your iDevice and finger-kiss Tim Cook.  They launched an upgraded iPhone that looks more like a Samsung with features the Samsung had in 2012. 

They launched a Watch that requires an iPhone to do anything useful.  But the biggest sin was to claim that the button on the side of the watch was a revolutionary new User Interface. 

They said all of the words that Steve used to say, and where their personalities fell flat, they filled the void with marketing videos and references to Apple’s storied past. 

So many people have written about why Apple was so successful under Steve Jobs.  This presentation should crystallize in everyone’s mind that it wasn’t the products, nor the marketing, nor the executive leadership. 

It was his ability to evangelize a product like nobody else. 

Purchasing something is an emotional decision, and evangelists make deep emotional connections with their audience.

This presentation was a clinic on how to give a solid presentation and how to nail a marketing message.  And yet it’s not good enough anymore, because that personal connection isn’t there. 

Your product needs to make an emotional connection with the buyer.  Steve Jobs was the proud father of his Apple products, and he was fantastic at telling stories about why he made the product. 

If you want to absolutely nail your product launch, you need to inject that personality into your launch materials.  Don’t rely on a great marketing budget or highly effective presentation skills.  You need to be raw, emotional, and open, as well as polished and practiced.  That’s what evangelists do. 

Evangelists are the core of their product or brand.  And right now Apple is missing its core. 

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