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Thoughts on a keynote: Will Apple ever surprise us again?

On courage

So it ends. Another fall Apple event. What used to be "surprise and delight" has become predictable. For example, an all but confirmed removal of the headphone jack was expected. The big reveal of the day wasn't the news of the removal of the headphone jack, but rather Apple's somewhat interesting spin (er ... motivation) for doing so. For what it's worth, courage is running into a burning building to save an old lady and a puppy. Courage of conviction, though, is about making hard choices when you believe they're right.

So breaking it down, I'm impressed, but I'm underwhelmed. These are the best iPhones ever – the best Apple Watches ever (well, of course they are. Otherwise, why introduce them?). But, what does that mean?

On innovation

The iPhone 7? A solid update with features long-wanted.

If you're OK with the largest form factor, you really are buying a fantastic camera that also happens to be an iPhone. The other features across the devices are great as well. Evolutionary, but welcome. I'm not sure Apple will drive upgrades from users with A9 devices, but they're certainly good enough to prevent any upgraders from defecting to Android. They're also very attractive to anyone not currently on iOS.

To be clear, the iPhone 7 line remains the bar to hurdle for all other devices. iPhone is the gold standard. Period. Sorry. Nothing else comes close. Recalled devices that explode don't really count.

The new Apple Watch Series 2 is nice. But, I think the biggest innovation for existing users will be watchOS 3. It would be difficult for me to recommend an existing Apple Watch owner to upgrade without a very good reason. For example; if they swim a lot.

Apple Watch marketing has taken a fitness focus. That's good. It defines the device. Unfortunately, it also lumps Apple Watch into other fitness devices that are much lower in cost. Apple Watch marketing remains a challenge to Apple. Almost everyone I know who wears one has a different reason for doing so, and they are all rooted in notifications. Apple's fall marketing will be interesting to watch.

This new crop of Apple Watches can attract new users, if not necessarily upgraders.

I think the iPhone 7 event was a good day for Apple. A solid refresh of two lines. They're all good enough to attract new users, drive upgrades for some users, and in general, once again set the bar for what a phone or watch should be in 2016.

On the end of an era

I think the era of legendary Apple keynotes is over (those who were there in the heyday will be like those who saw the Beatle's at Shea Stadium. Kids, ask your grandparents). Sure, if Steve were alive, he'd never do karaoke in a car on the way to a keynote (unless, as Rene told me, Dylan was in the car with him). So what?

Apple defines the smartphone. Apple has defined the post PC world, as well as the ... well ... PC world. Apple created the first smartwatch worthy of criticism.

Sure, the keynote was predictable and, if you read the spoilers, perhaps even somewhat boring. The idea, though, that the era of Apple is over, is foolish.

Apple's success or relevance doesn't depend on one set of products or one keynote. The "Apple is doomed" mantra goes back almost to the days of the first Macintosh.

Betting against Apple, in the long run, is missing the forest for the trees, no matter how many trees others try to throw in the path. Especially, if those trees need to be recalled.

I’ve covered the personal technology beat for more than two decades at places like Gartner, Jupiter Research and Altimeter Group. I’ve also had the fun of contributing my $.02 on the topic at Computerworld, Engadget, Macworld, SlashGear and now iMore. Most recently I spent a few years at Apple as Sr. Director of Worldwide Product Marketing. On Twitter I’m an unverified @gartenberg. I still own some Apple stock.

34 Comments
  • Good read. I do agree with everything said.
  • To be honest, with so many 'leaks' prior to a keynote, I can't see us, the consumers, being 'surprised' again.
    Well, except for those that don't really follow the latest technology and keep abreast of innovation, etc.
  • Nobody, and I really mean not one source predicted stereo speakers on opposite sides. That is kind of a surprise. A little one but surprise nevertheless
  • It was a good read, very informative but predictable. Sent from the iMore App
  • If they don't surprise us next year then they never will. You would think if they wanted to keep any phone under wraps it would be the 10th anniversary edition. We shall see.
  • Hard to do with any consumer product in the internet age. Too many suppliers, too many stops in the supply chain.
  • Unless you are Nintendo
  • Well, I guess Ignorance is bliss.
    This article was predictable as well. No article on Apple can ever surprise us. Here's an idea for another article: "Will an article on Apple ever surprise us again?"
  • And I lay this at the feet of all the so-called Apple centric websites out there fighting to get the big scoop of the rumor mill. They puff up, pound their chests and bleat about how they got this or that right. Add to that the supply chain lackeys who can’t keep their mouths shut even for one second. Gotta have those clandestine pictures don’t you know. Instead of blaming Apple for not surprising us anymore blame iMore and others for their manic drive to let the cat out of the bag ahead of time.
  • Yet here you are on iMore and I’d also hazard a guess that it’s also you over at Mac”RUMOURS”?
  • haha, great article "...if those trees need to be recalled" I agree 110% about watch OS3, i'm not looking to upgrade watches, the software update made it seem like a new one with all the new watch faces and how quick it is now.
  • If Apple is so courageous, they would have released iMessage for Android.
  • I don't care about iMessage for android as much as I care about iMessage from any browser or at least windows. Sent from the iMore App
  • I can second that. I have iCloud on my PC, but messages would be great. At work I don't get to pick if I have a PC or MacBook. I can pick my browser and other software though, within reason. Sent from the iMore App
  • Agreed. I get a Windows PC only from work. I'd love to have iMessage in some form on a Windows PC. I love my Mac if given a choice, would choose one any day of the week but sometimes you get what your company supplies and nothing else. Sent from the iMore App
  • Technically from any browser is also from Android, plus Android supports web notifications so you could use a web version like an app
  • I agree with others on this, with the way leaks are delivered these days, we can no longer get surprised even if the devices could be all new in design, by the time it's presented it will be old news. I think the continued mention of explosive competition is a chip shot as it has nothing to do with the Note's design but the issue is a faulty component. Even iPhones have exploded over the years across different batches. Sent from the iMore App
  • "cheap shot" Sent from the iMore App
  • Tim Cook : Than Que , Than Queee , Than Quuuu
  • Dropping the headphone jack would only be considered a 'hard' decision requiring "courage of commitment" it there was a chance it would actually cost them something. They knew perfectly well that their target audience would go along with the decision.
    The missing jack costs Apple nothing. The customers pay the price as usual. I would have been more supportive if their technical reasons made any sense. I have no need of a thinner phone, and others have already proven that a standard headphone jack can be waterproof. I also have many different sets of headphones for different uses, and I there is no way I would carry around an adapter to use them.
  • One of the many problems I've noticed with removing the headphone jack, is the price of quality BT headsets. I bought a pair Sony XB950s recently (which, after some bass and mid reduction in the universal EQ of my S7 edge, sound incredible), and they were only $130 Canadian. But the BT version of these same headphones is almost double the price. Lightning headsets need to factor in Apple licensing fees. Seems like the days of buying quality, affordable headphones for the iPhone are over for some time until the prices go down. But when will that be? If I were to buy an iPhone with no headphone jack, I'd wait until the headset hardware ecosystem had matured and affordable options were readily available.
  • Ah the headphone jack thing. It's funny to me that this one plug which is only one way to playback music is enough for people to get ******, throw their hands up and entirely switch platforms and ecosystems. I rather see Apple as the only alternative for those who don't want Google mining and selling every detail of their lives to their "trusted partners." That all aside, in my 5s and this 6s Plus I use now, I've never even used my headphone jack one time. For the occasion I go walking at the park I just use my bluetooth earbuds, but most of my music playing is in my Jeep, and I've always taken to plugging into the usb port on my head unit. Most of the world doesn't work this way, and it's nothing to do with Apple in particular, but I'm just grateful this jack thing doesn't effect me in any way. People who use the stuff I do must be their target. Sent from the iMore App
  • When you invest money in wired headphones a jack is kinda useful. People that actually like high quality playback and choice.
  • I'll admit... months of hearing and reading the leaks didn't really bore me off from the Keynote. Apple Keynote's are confirmation!!! The energy is just amazing. And even if leaks and rumors are dead on.. there is always SOMETHING that is never released or announced for the sake of pushing info into the blogosphere. Yes, I pretty much knew of the some of the features and had been on iOS 10 for awhile prior... nothing prepared for the announcement of Mario!! (and the classic thanks to Steve).
    Apple is not doomed... and the keynotes will always have surprises.
  • I agree with this article. They keynotes don't have any true showmanship anymore. You can tell each speaker is trying to get through their lines and seem genuinely excited. You see they pauses for applause but it feels forced. At least Jony Ive's videos are nice still. I enjoy the products but and can live without the headphone jack when 2017 iPhone is released but I'm totally fine with my 6s Plus and this was the first keynote where I didn't feel the desire for the latest and greatest.
  • Two simple words would suprise me:
    Available TODAY.
  • Good read and reasonable unlike Rene and Serenity who can't seem to find anything wrong in any Apple products. Sure they are great and best but sometimes the way they defend some Apple's stupid decisions is irritating. Sent from the iMore App
  • I just wish one thing from Apple I know it might sound weird but I want a FITNESS BAND.
    I use fitbit but I have to use another app to sync with Apple Health and Apple watch is great but cant track sleep (because it will run out of charge) which is utmost important factor of health.
    Also I'm pretty sure Fitbit will close to be doomed after that.
  • I use my Apple Watch to treacle sleep all the time using sleep ++. I charge my watch in the morning while I shower and shave ad such and it's plenty to get me through to the next day. I have the 42mm version though. Sent from the iMore App
  • I use my Apple Watch to treacle sleep all the time using sleep ++. I charge my watch in the morning while I shower and shave ad such and it's plenty to get me through to the next day. I have the 42mm version though. Sent from the iMore App
  • That's a good idea but with fitbit I don't have to charge for almost a week also I can't sleep with CHARGE it was too big for comfort so switched to ALTA I don't need heart rate tracker as I use cheststrap for gym.
  • Just because we can't be surprised by anything anymore, shouldn't make them any less impressive. When the dust settled after this keynote, and the reviews started coming in, I think people realised, "Hey, maybe these phones aren't as bad/boring/doomed as we thought?" Sent from the iMore App
  • Good one Michael. Your articles are short, crisp and to the point. Sent from the iMore App
  • I completely agree with the main point of the article. In this day and age it's pretty much impossible to be surprised by an event. There are just to many to many leak sources that are just a "share" click away. For instance, right now we already have a pretty good idea when google's next event will be and what will be presented there. As for the "iPhone is the gold standard... Nothing else comes close..." comment I'll let that one slide since this is an Apple site... (and don't call me an Android fanboy, I'm gonna buy an iPhone this Christmas ;) )