My first Apple keynote was a parody of Steve Jobs. Literally: Noah Wyle (the ER actor who had just played Jobs in the TV movie Pirates of Silicon Valley) strode onto the Macworld 1999 stage promising "really great, totally, wildly and insanely great new products", before being stopped by the real deal. It was a clever way to co-opt Wyle’s (correctly) portrayal Jobs as an egomaniac who had been kicked out his own company.
It was, for Apple fans, a clear sign that Apple was not a boring tech conglomerate. Every Apple event since has had entertainment as part of their DNA. We had a great time laughing when Jobs revealed the iPod socks. Later, we discovered that you could actually purchase them. Tim Cook, although not quite as showmanlike, is well aware of the importance memeable moments, such as his devious smile after taking off his mask at an April 20 event, subtly intended for stoners.
The fun stopped abruptly at Monday's Apple Event. There was very little to announce, including new Apple Music pricing tiers, new HomePod color options, and tech specs from two confusing laptop chips that could send a Mac geek like me to sleep. The $19 screen cleaner for this year's iPod socks was not mentioned. It wasn't because of a lack of time. Apple's keynote lasted only 50 minutes. It was Apple's shortest keynote ever.
This is not about entertainment value. It's a sign that the company is losing its creative juices. Apple was widely criticised by Macworld for not having any new technology to show off at the September iPhone 13 launch event. It did however, cover that fact with a passionate love letter to the nation that gave it its birth. The marketing department now has nothing left in its tank a month later. This would be troubling if I were an investor looking to gauge the company's long term health.
Unintentional self-parody was the only source of humor at the Apple event. The Apple Music voice plan costs $5 per month, but it removes the ability for you to type your search queries (it's Siri activated only). My first reaction was to check the calendar to make sure it wasn’t April 1. Apple keynotes can feel dystopian, but this was the first to make us enter a world where we have our keyboards taken away from the screen. It's also a marketing term that makes it seem like a self-own. If Siri is so amazing, why is half-price Siri-only plans?
The next source of self-parody was the introduction of the Macbook Pro (not counting the fact that Apple continues to try to make HomePods work by... selling them in different colors). The notch is the oddly-shaped iPhone camera area that was so detested that Apple may be removing it from the iPhone 14. You'll be a fan of the laptop notch. You'd be amazed at how many Apple nerds don't see the laptop notch. You'd notice that core Mac apps like FaceTime don't use this strange screen carve-out. They are aware of what is happening.
This Macbook makes everything new again. Magsafe charging was restored (prompting the question: "Why did it ever disappear?" It retains Touch ID over "upgrading to Face ID" and the headphone jack Apple removed from the iPhone 6S. Let's be clear: Touch ID and wired headphones may not be suitable for the iPhone but are essential on a notebook that the marketing team calls "game changing".
If you find these questions too difficult to answer, don't bother trying to figure out the differences between M1 Max chips and M1 Pro chips. Is the Max suitable for amateurs? Does the Pro really go all out? It almost felt like the Pro was obsolete when Apple arranged its keynote introductions. Apple, this was a gag that SNL performed a decade ago during a Weekend Update with Fred Armisen playing Jobs. You need some new material!
It was almost funny to see the keynote cut between two never-before-seen Apple executives so quickly that it almost felt like a parody. The keynote with the most screen time was also the one that presented a variety of extremely esoteric charts on CPU and GPU performance. He then looked at the audience as if we hadn't done our homework. Poor Craig Federighi, the software chief, was back for his first Apple event in 2020. With less than a minute screen time, he didn’t even get to tell a dad joke.
Perhaps that will change in 2022 when Tim Cook's live events are back. Apple is beginning to look like a father joke and especially stale. The company is finally becoming a dull, button-down tech conglomerate that gives snoozefest keynotes. It can find comfort in its hardcore fans, who will defend any company action. This includes the one who asked why we "shamed the Apple cloth so much". Perhaps even Steve Jobs' ghost is smiling at this one.