12 March 2012

Apologising Apple

I noticed two comments during Apple’s keynote to announce the new iPad that seemed oddly apologetic for Apple. Almost like a chink in their armour of quiet confidence.

The first incident was during the detailed explanation about why the new iPad has a display worthy of the name “Retina display”. At 27:00, Phil Schiller showed a diagram of the relevant calculation and explained why Apple called the display of the iPhone 4 a Retina display: when you hold it ten inches or more1 away from your face, your retina can’t distinguish the pixels.

“Experts agree with us.”

He went on to explain how the iPad’s screen met the same criteria, but not before exclaiming at 27:20:

And yes, there’s real math behind that. Experts agree with us.

That seemed like an odd thing for an Apple executive to say. The explanation and diagram were both important to help define the term. But Phil’s almost joking claim that “there’s real math … experts agree with us” seemed too apologetic, claiming outside support in a weak way without any evidence.

A stronger and more conventional way for Apple to show expert agreement would have been to have a slide with a quote by such an expert, or a indisputable comparison across different devices. Both were used effectively earlier in the event: Tim presented a quote from PC World about the ubiquity of the iPad (18:15), and he also had a slide with the iPad sales compared to the other PC vendors (17:39).

A less-apologetic way to show expert support

The second incident was Tim’s closing remarks, he spoke about further releases coming throughout the year for Apple. As quoted by John Gruber, with emphasis added:

Only Apple could deliver this kind of innovation, in such a beautiful, integrated, and easy-to-use way. It’s what we love to do. It’s what we stand for. And across the year, you’re going to see a lot more of this kind of innovation. We are just getting started.

It was an inspiring thing to say and I’m sure it left many competitors shaking in their boots, but for what purpose was it said? Apple has rarely given any sign of their future work. They hold an event to talk about what they’re ready to release today.

His slide said it even more clearly:

“2012. There’s a lot to look forward to.”

I’m sure there is a whole lot to look forward to, but putting this in the closing remarks seemed to take a bit of the sparkle away from what they just released. This came across as Tim moving attention away from today’s event and into the future. This seemed like a subtle apology for today’s presentation.

But that’s exactly the wrong sentiment to convey here. The new iPad delivers several groundbreaking improvements to an already market-smashing product. Yet he felt that he had to promise more. To whom? Was it for the customers and shareholders? Or perhaps the analysts who are watching the company intensely? I’m not sure.

A confident Apple presentation typically ends with a curt “that’s all we have to talk about today” and maybe “thanks for coming down”. Now we hear “we have a lot more coming”, so “be afraid” (competitors) or “be excited” (customers). Last week’s event ended on a strange note.

However, these are just two small incidents in an otherwise amazing 85-minute event. It’s well worth watching. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this. It will be interesting to see whether such missteps will become more frequent in Apple’s future events.


1 Phil also incorrectly said “10 inches or closer” (27:12) and “15 inches or even closer” (27:32) when talking about the distance at which one’s eyes would be unable to perceive the pixels in the iPhone and iPad displays. Obviously the opposite is true: pixels that are further away are more difficult for the eye to discern. If you move a Retina display closer to your face, you’re more likely to be able to distinguish the pixels. ^