The first impression I had of the new Apple Park, the iPhone giant’s new corporate headquarters, was the smell of manure. The landscaping around the 175-acre facility with its 9,000-plus trees is so new that the odor of animal fertilizer and wood chips alongside the sidewalk on the climb to the Steve Jobs Theater was overpowering.
Newness is precisely what Apple is after right now. On Tuesday, at the first product launch at its new home, it unveiled the most significant update to the iPhone in years as well as a spiffed up Apple TV and Apple Watch. It also unveiled the sort of relatively geeky but epic Apple advancements like wireless charging (from un-Apple-like third-party vendors), facial recognition, and the hints of a future augmented reality strategy.
There are oodles of good accounts of Apple’s new $999 offering and its other enhancements, including this one from Fortune’s Don Reisinger. I want to focus instead today on some of my other, non-odoriferous impressions from the two-hour event in Cupertino, Calif.
The new circular office building is awe-inspiring. Apple’s guests didn’t actually go in; the newly dubbed Steve Jobs Theater is tucked away in a corner of the site away from the main site. From across the street, in various neighborhoods of middle-of-the-road Cupertino, the massive building really looks like a spaceship out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It veritably hovers in the near distance. The theater is gorgeous too, a fine venue for commercial launches and anything else Apple decides to host there.
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Apple chooses carefully the music it plays to idle away the minutes before its events begin. The last song was “All You Need Is Love,” by the Beatles, a Steve Jobs favorite. CEO Tim Cook noted that “Steve loved days like this.” And he did.
Overlooked by the iPhone X coverage was a short presentation by retail chief Angela Ahrendts. (Like every other senior Apple executive who presented on stage, she was simply “Angela” in Cook’s chummy introductions. The others were “Jeff” Williams, operations head and Apple Watch spokesman; “Eddy” Cue, the services guru who spoke for Apple TV; “Phil” Schiller, longtime head of product marketing who had the coveted slot of introducing the new iPhones; and “Craig” Federighi, the ruler of all software who demonstrated how the newest iPhone works.)
Ahrendts discussed a significant repositioning of Apple’s retail efforts. She said “stores” are now “town squares,” a place where the community gathers. Each town square has a “plaza,” an “artists’ space,” and a “board room,” a place for entrepreneurs to gather. She also said new stores, er, town squares will have a relaxed “genius grove,” a recognition of what anyone with a broken iPhone knows, that the “Genius Bar” had become a hectic, frenzied, frustrating place. Apple stores now have a “creative pro,” said Ahrendts, the liberal arts equivalent of a genius for technology.
All this adds up to a potentially significant re-thinking of Apple’s retail approach. She also said, without elaborating, that the company plans to “invest online.” That’s interesting.
Some other observations:
* Cook said the Apple Watch had experienced 50% year-over-year growth and is now the “No. 1 watch in the world.” Apple can be quite specific about performance metrics when it wants to be. So pay attention when it starts releasing actual Apple Watch numbers rather than this comparatively meaningless data.
* Various executives namechecked various significant “frenemies.” WeChat works with the Watch, for example. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video figure prominently in the Apple TV. These mentions are never accidental. I don’t recall seeing Facebook or Google, though I might have missed them.
* One of my favorite moments came during a demo of the new Apple Watch cellular capability after Deirdre Caldbeck, a product-marketing executive on the watch, spoke to Jeff Williams while being filmed from a nearby boat atop her standup paddle board in the middle of Lake Tahoe. Williams said he wanted to “go rogue”—meaning he was abandoning the script, though who knows with Apple, this could have been planned—to point out that the quality of her connection while paddling was “darn close to magic.” He’s right, and it’s the kind of stunt Steve Jobs would have relished: Highly staged, rather dramatic, and an ideal demonstration of impressive technology.
The pungent surroundings of the new Apple campus indeed isn’t all that’s new at the revered company, which still knows when to honor its past too.
Sick burn. One of the leaders of old world finance has little use for new school digital currencies. J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon called bitcoin a “fraud” headed towards collapse.” Eventually, it will be the emperor without clothes,” he said. He was followed by famed economist and investor Mohamed El-Erian, who told CNBC on Wednesday bitcoin’s price will likely fall 50% to 67%.
Widespread problems. An investigation by the New York Times turned up many examples of toxic and sexist behavior at fintech startup Social Finance, known as SoFi, under outgoing CEO Mike Cagney. “It was a frat house. You would find people having sex in their cars and in the parking lot. It was a free-for-all,” one former employee told the newspaper.
Partial fault. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded its probe into a deadly crash between a Tesla and an 18-wheeler truck in Florida last year. While placing blame on the deceased Tesla owner and the truck driver, the agency said features of Tesla’s autopilot designed to prevent misuse were inadequate.
WE READ ALL THE APPLE NEWS SO YOU DON'T HAVE TO
Saturation coverage? You betcha. But not to fear–Aaron here, and I have waded through a billion hot takes, rewrites, and “hands on” first impressions to bring you a curated selection of some of the best (or at least most interesting) stuff written about yesterday’s Apple event.
Let’s start with some views of the new gadgets by people who review these things for a living and actually got to play with them in person on Tuesday. David Pierce at Wired has a great look at the iPhone X, Chris Burns at Slashgear has a ton of pictures and thoughts on the lower-priced iPhone models, and Serenity Caldwell has a great roundup of what’s good and bad on the only-slightly-revamped Apple Watch.
At a somewhat higher level, Tracey Lien at the Los Angeles Times digs into Apple’s strategy with the new iPhones. (“They haven’t bumped anything down. They created an ultra-premium layer,” one analyst tells her.) Media studies professor Ian Bogst does some future-casting about where Apple is headed and how it’s influencing culture. And Davey Alba at BuzzFeed looks at the privacy trade-offs involved in Apple’s new FaceID security feature.
A few pieces from Fortune to add to your reading list: Robert Hackett digs into the new camera features and collects some tweeted pictures of Apple’s new campus, Don Reisinger answers five “burning questions” you may have, and Tom Huddleston compares the new Apple TV to the competition. Oh, and how much does it cost to put the new cellular-capable Apple Watch on your cellular plan? 10 bucks a month.
There were also a lot of smaller things going on yesterday. Did you notice Apple jacked up prices on phones and iPads? Longtime Apple reporter Dan Moren had a useful round up of small details you may have missed yesterday, including the terrible news (TERRIBLE) that the Apple TV’s remote control has not been redesigned. There were a ton of rumors before the event and Jonny Evans at Computerworld has a rundown of which panned out and which did not.
If you want to read a few people really beating up on Apple, Victor Luckerson at The Ringer lays into the company for “offering luxury for its own sake,” and James Vincent is siding with Adam in ridiculing the notion of Apple stores as “town squares.” Meanwhile, the opposition had a few interesting counters. I chuckled reading Android Central’s “fact checking” of Tim Cook and Phandroid’s 10 reasons why the Galaxy Note 8 is better than the iPhone X.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Is American culture, or at least American political culture, turning against tech giants like Google, Amazon, and Facebook? That’s the provocative thesis of BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith. On issues ranging from antitrust to taxes to privacy and data collection, politicians and lobbyists are coming together to oppose Big Tech and even threaten to redefine how the companies operate, he argues.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
This Could Be Mercedes’ Next Step Toward a Self-Driving Benz by Kirsten Korosec
The Diamond Industry Is Obsessed With the Blockchain by Jeff John Roberts
AT&T Expands Free HBO Offer to More Customers by Aaron Pressman
BEFORE YOU GO
Academics studying the papers of the novelist Kurt Vonnegut at Indiana University found a gem: an unpublished short story called “The Drone King.” No, not that kind of drone–it’s about bees, silly. The Atlantic has the text and an audio version, too.