Duncan Bell is an Apple fan…
…but with phones now over £1,000, it’s clear the brand doesn’t love him back
This month saw the launch of something truly momentous. Something terrifyingly expensive, admittedly, but also palpably, thrillingly A quantum leap forward from a brand with a long, proud history of innovation.
That was Miele’s Dialog oven, a triumph of Teutonic engineering that cooks with ‘magnetic waves’ and will revolutionise how we prepare food… once it costs less than eight grand, and we’ve all read the manual.
Apple? Oh, they put out a nice phone that costs £800 and a really nice phone that costs a grand.
One thing the two launches had in common was a very theatrical launch event. You can’t put out anything new and expensive these days without employing an elaborate mix of West End musical-grade lighting and FX, OLED screens the size of Windsor Castle and some buttock clenchingly awkward ‘banter’ between hosts who would really rather not be doing this.
I’ve been watching Apple’s iPhone events since the first one, and every year I go away thinking, “Well that was ridiculously packed with hyperbole and faintly outrageous claims” …and then I usually go and buy the phone anyway.
This year’s one, on September 12, seemed particularly mad. There was genuine emotion at the start as Tim Cook reminisced movingly about Steve Jobs, but after that it tipped over into a strange mix of science and feelings – all of the feels, as today’s young people put it – that seemed a bit like robots trying to understand human emotions and maybe not getting it.
So the Apple Watch 3 wasn’t just a high-class wearable. No, the presentation made clear, through the reading out of letters from users, that it was here to save them – and YOU – from, variously, car crashes, heart disease and other hitherto undiagnosed medical conditions, depression and, perhaps most terrifying of all, “a bit of a ‘dad body’.” Nooooo! NOT the dad bod!
Then there were the new Apple TV 4K – like the Apple TV but with 4K – and the iPhone 8 which, as ever, was like the last iPhone but a bit better.
The way Apple presents its new products does wind a lot of people up. You can easily play iPhone Event Bingo, filling up your card as speakers use certain Apple-y buzzwords.
Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s retail supremo, for instance, announced that Apple Stores should now be called ‘Town Squares’ and then delivered a speech that I swear to god literally went like this: “Soul… humanise… amazing… commitment… design… simple… beautiful.” So that was my bingo card filled, and she was the first speaker.
But although it’s easy to mock Apple’s rather magical, hippy-ish way of doing things, clearly it works. It appeals to people who don’t spend large chunks of their time commenting about tech online. You know: normal, regular, non-cynical people.
That’s because Apple has long understood that selling tech isn’t about flogging people a bunch of microchips strapped to some OLED. It’s about selling dreams and aspirations and excitement and nice things and feels.
That is more important than ever now that differentiating between tech products is so very hard. As I’ve complained before, gadgets – and phones in particular – are nearly all good, these days. Is the iPhone any better than the latest Samsung or LG phone? As a pile of chips with a screen on the front? No. As a desirable, sexy thing you feel unaccountable loyalty towards? For a lot of people, yes.
But I do worry that the strain is beginning to tell on Apple’s spokesdroids. This year’s big reveal was the iPhone X, a phone that features some very cutting-edge camera technology, is an aesthetic wonder, and also the priciest mainstream smartphone ever. How did Apple choose to show it off? By demonstrating that you could use it to motion capture your face, talking, and map it onto a 4K-definition, sentient turd emoji.
It almost made me think that someone at Apple was trying to hint at a certain ironic detachment from its latest and greatest handset. Almost. But the defining feature of Apple is earnestness and so I can only conclude the team there genuinely thinks a talking animatronic poo with your face mapped onto it is the future.
You can’t put anything new out these days without awkward ‘banter’ between hosts