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Why Apple Needs to Step Up Its Product Events Sooner Than Later

October 28, 2016, 3:37 PM UTC
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks under a graphic of the new MacBook Pro during an Apple media event in Cupertino
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks under a graphic of the new MacBook Pro during an Apple media event in Cupertino, California, U.S. October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX2QR68
Beck Diefenbach — Reuters

For decades, Apple events have been the World Series of tech. But now, I’m wondering if Apple has lost its way.

The tech giant (AAPL) on Thursday held its “Hello Again” press event at its headquarters in Cupertino. While the show wasn’t expected to be overly newsworthy, many had thought it would play host not only to the new MacBook Pro Apple introduced, but also other innovations. Instead, save for an iterative software update to content discovery on the Apple TV and a new accessibility website, it was devoid of any other important announcements.

Frankly, Apple’s event was a bore and made to look even worse in light of Microsoft’s (MSFT) shot over Apple’s bow on Wednesday when the Windows maker announced its new Surface Studio, an all-in-one PC that does far more than Apple’s now-conspicuously-old iMac.

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It was not supposed to be this way. Apple has a long history of holding some of technology’s biggest spectacles. Who can forget the time Steve Jobs pulled out the iPhone or when he showed off the iPod for the first time? Even his unveiling of the MacBook Pro was memorable. Steve Jobs made Apple events seem important, glamorous, and worthy of the massive hype they’ve received. But now it feels like Apple is holding events for the sake of holding them: it’s something the company has always done and feels compelled to continue.

Apple’s event was overrun with terrible jokes and painstakingly long demos. And although the MacBook Pro is a nice innovation bump over its predecessor, it’s hard to believe Apple really needed an hour to talk about its Touch Bar and Touch ID. Even Apple’s attempts at begging customers to buy the MacBook Pro instead of the MacBook Air were embarrassing.

As a longtime Apple hardware owner (I’ve had every iPhone, I’m writing this on a Mac Pro, and own an iMac and MacBook Pro, as well as both an iPad Air and iPad Pro), I have fond memories of past Apple events. Rumors were running rampant, innovation was right around the corner, and a charismatic leader owned the stage, always ready to share that “one more thing.” Apple events weren’t just events; they were celebrations of what the technology industry could achieve. They were important. They mattered. And we all flocked to see what would Apple would showcase.

Apple’s event on Thursday, however, lacked all of that. Apple mistakenly revealed its biggest announcement in a recent macOS Sierra update, leaving little sizzle to the big unveiling. The “one more things” of years past are all but gone, and with each show, it feels like we know what Apple will announce before CEO Tim Cook even takes the stage.

For more about Apple’s new MacBook Pro, watch:

But there’s a business side to this, as well. For all the fun at Apple events, they’re also an opportunity for Apple to boost its brand and get more people talking about its products. Apple has expertly done that over the last decade and has become one of the most important technology companies because of it.

This time around, Apple’s event was held just two days after the company announced its first annual revenue decline in 15 years. It also reported troubling iPad and Mac performance. Investors were hoping yesterday’s event would usher in several new Macs to give Apple an edge this holiday season. Instead, Apple is going into the holidays with computers that are, in some cases, old and outdated, and hoping to compete against brand-new Windows-based alternatives.

Now going into 2017, Apple needs to ask itself if it did enough in 2016 to keep us interested next year. Yes, this is Apple and it will continue to hold events that we’ll all cover, but will fewer people tune in next year because of Apple’s sputtering end to 2016? Are expectations, and therefore excitement, now lower for Apple events? With such a poor showing on Thursday, we need to ask those questions. And now Apple might need to try and blow us away next year or face even more critics.

As an Apple fan, I’m rooting for the company to get back to its past event glory. But as an Apple fan, I must also acknowledge when the company has a misstep. And it’s hard to see how Thursday’s event was anything less than a troubling stumble.