Critic's Notebook: At the Apple Keynote, Selling Us a Better Vision of Ourselves
This year is the 10th anniversary of the iPhone. It’s also the 10th anniversary of the Apple keynote at which Steve Jobs announced the original device. The first one was a tour de force, Mr. Jobs leading a rapt audience as he asked them to imagine an iPod, a phone and a pocket internet device all in one.
Mr. Jobs, who died in 2011, loomed over Tuesday’s nostalgic presentation. The Apple C.E.O., Tim Cook, paid tribute, his voice cracking with emotion, Mr. Jobs’s steeple-fingered image looming as big onstage as Big Brother’s face in the classic Macintosh “1984” commercial. Mr. Cook even revived Mr. Jobs’s patented “One more thing …” line, but reverentially: “We have great respect for these words, and we don’t use them lightly.”
These online-streaming keynotes have become as important a production of Apple as the devices themselves. An Apple event is a distinct kind of TV special: an extended commercial — this one ran nearly two hours — that people watch willingly, to get a glimpse of the new products and an art-directed idea of their better selves.
On the massive screen, attractive young people ran with a billowing red sheet across a golden desert. Caped figures soared through clouds like angels in a gorgeous video game preview. A promo video for the Apple Watch as a fitness tool was so heartwarming and inspirational I think the Apple Watch may be running for president.
Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice president for retail, said new Apple stores would be rebranded Town Squares, places for community gathering, education — and buying the occasional thousand-dollar phone. (“Apple retail,” Mr. Cook said, “has always been about more than selling. It’s about learning, inspiring and connecting with people.”)
You will do such fantastic things with this technology, the presentation said. You’ll get healthy! You’ll learn! You’ll play ennobling games!
Though Mr. Jobs is gone, his minimalist aesthetic lives on in Cupertino, in the products and on the stage. Everything was set off against a black screen, like diamond necklaces in a velvet case. The show opened with footage of the sun rising (or setting? Surely it was rising) over the curvilinear new Steve Jobs Theater, where the event took place.
Mr. Cook is an amiable presenter, but he doesn’t pretend to have Mr. Jobs’s magnetism. Wearing a zippered fleece — rich-guy casualwear as opposed to Mr. Jobs’s aesthete’s turtlenecks — he passed the spotlight around to associates. Among them was the designer Jonathan Ive, speaking from a white room in tandem with an animated monkey emoji.
Those “animoji,” controlled through face-recognition technology — yes, the poop emoji is in there — got a workout. You can read elsewhere about the technical specs of the new hardware. But so much of the presentation was about images: the cameras, the edge-to-edge displays, the animation, emphasizing the extent to which Apple could be overlaid on the world to make it prettier, better, more fun.
I’m not going to pretend that I’m immune to this allure. I watched the Apple keynote on my Apple iMac after getting a reminder on my Apple iPad and being unable to start a stream through the Apple events app on my Apple TV. A 1989 Mac Plus that I can’t bear to part with still sits in my basement. I will almost certainly buy one of the new phones.
What will I do with it? What does anyone? I will Instagram photos of my cooking that I think look more appetizing than they are. I will see another tweet from the president. I will Google song lyrics. I will read Facebook posts and get mad on the internet.
And another year from now, I’ll set another reminder to watch another Apple event, believing somewhere deep down that with one more upgrade, I might be perfected.
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