Yesterday Apple launched a handful of new products, but if you’re even a casual consumer of news, you know that.
However, as I watched the presentation last night (on my Apple TV, of course!), it occurred to me that while Apple did trot out a couple of new toys, that presentation was a shot across the U.S. government’s bow to gain public support, plain and simple.
And it was very, very well done.
It’s been nearly impossible to miss the steady news cycle over the last couple of weeks concerning Apple’s refusal to unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooting suspects. To be clear, I didn’t write this post to either (1) rehash the issue, (2) take sides or (3) review the products announced yesterday.
Instead, I want to discuss the strategy behind much of Apple’s presentation yesterday. Since it’s March, let me just say it sure looked like a strong move to the hoop to me.
Overall, it’s important to note that nearly half of the presentation went by before any new hardware was introduced. Instead, Apple skillfully prepped the soil and then planted quite a few seeds.
The presentation opened with a video called “40 Years in 40 Seconds.” While very basic, it quickly flashed the company’s innovations in front of everyone, from the original Mac (Hello!) to the latest iPhone. I caught myself remembering long-forgotten products I had used and loved — and I laughed when the word “Newton” was quickly scratched out. Apple CEO Tim Cook then let everyone know that in just a few days — April 1 — The Fruit turns 40.
The message: look at all the wonderful things you use and love every day that wouldn’t be here without us! (he said without saying).
Cook then laid out Apple’s case for not helping to crack the San Bernardino iPhone. He had to. It was a large and ugly gorilla in the corner that had to be addressed. But he didn’t talk about Apple’s position, he talked about how they build their products for “you” — the Apple Customer. It was not “us against them,” it was “we’re sticking up for you.”
Then, for me, it got interesting. And really good.
Instead of launching immediately into products, Cook invited Apple exec Lisa Jackson to the stage to recap Apple’s commitment to the environment and give a report card of sorts on their progress. We learned that Apple is using 93 percent renewable energy to power its facilities — well on the way to the 100 percent goal. We were reminded you can ship an old product to Apple (free of charge) for recycling, and we were introduced to “Liam,” the robot that disassembles old Apple products so as much as possible — right down to the screws — can be recycled or reused.
But before the toys, as Steve might say, there’s one more thing.
Apple’s Jeff Williams took the stage, telling the story of ResearchKit and how it has helped some of the leading medical schools and research institutions in the world (the slide of a dozen or so recognizable logos was impressive) conduct some of the largest and most important research studies to date. With these institutions, Apple’s tools are helping to secure new information on Parkinson’s, diabetes and more. While this did morph into an announcement — the CareKit app, available yesterday in the latest iOS update — the takeaway was far more about providing tools for life-changing medical research.
They ended the CareKit announcement with a line or two about the security, making sure that consumers are always in control of what they share and who they share it with.
You listening, FBI?
Then we got three product announcements:
- New bands and pricing for the Apple Watch
- The iPhone SE
- And finally, a 9.7-inch iPad Pro
Honestly, the Apple Watch bands felt like they were forcing an announcement, and two toys just weren’t enough. The new iPhone and iPad were OK, but only borderline worthy of an Apple event.
Clearly, to me, this was Tim Cook’s way of driving home some key points:
- Apple isn’t some Johnny-Come-Lately you can bully — the company turns 40 this year.
- Apple doesn’t just make cool products, they care about our planet and are achieving fairly lofty goals to help protect the environment.
- The tools they make are being used to save lives.
Whether you’re an Apple lover or hater, whether you agree with Apple or the FBI — and whether or not you even agree with the points Tim Cook made yesterday — it was a master’s session in messaging, carefully orchestrated to make you feel good about Apple with the hope that will carry over to the news you might hear about the ongoing privacy battle.
Well played, Mr. Cook. Well played.