At the inaugural Code Conference in May this year, Apple senior vice president Eddy Cue told attendees that Apple had "the best product pipeline that I've seen in my 25 years at Apple."
What he didn't include at the time, but become apparent today, was that in order to show everything off Apple was also planning what is arguably one of the single-largest events it has ever undertaken. It built a whole structure at De Anza college. Hundreds of the media that Apple typically would not include in its events were asked to join. And the whole event also included hundreds of Apple employees that worked on the products that Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled.
The event itself, including an appearance from U2 and advertisements featuring Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, was enormous. Amid the chaos and rushing reporters, Apple showed its patented ability to generate an unbelievable amount of hype and spin an event for the media is very much alive and well.
The formula at these events is often the same: Apple invites select members of the press, who come and get their hands on the products and then write breathless stories filled with technical jargon and high-resolution photos.
But this one was different. Gizmodo, for example, a publication previously banned for leaking photos of the iPhone 4 before its launch, was invited. Several fashion outlets were invited in anticipation of the company releasing a wearable device.
Today as lines began to form, Apple had coffee and plenty of food and juice for the members of the media, some of whom had arrived in the wee hours of the morning to begin setting up mobile television studios for broadcasts around the event that would show off Apple's newest products. In the distance, Apple employees were talking amongst themselves with huge grins and a palpable excitement in their step.
Apple's speciality has always been to not only generate hype for the customers buying its phones, computers and tablets, but also to excite the media. No other company commands the immense army of bloggers running whole websites devoted to them.
Apple representatives hadn't even specified where a line would be before a mass of members of the media — including myself — had gathered outside the door of the Flint Center. Only one line had been established for members of broadcast outlets, which had expensive television equipment, but that didn't matter. A prized seat in the presentation center can mean the difference between a good photo and a bad one, and live blogs of Apple events can make or break a website's month based on the sheer traffic that events from a company like Apple can provide.
When Apple let the press inside, it was a calm kind of chaos, with some trying to resist the urge to literally run in and get a good seat out of respect for fellow members of the media and Apple. Before long, the narrow hallways of the Flint Center proved to be too small for such a large crowd racing in all at once, leading to the human equivalent of a traffic jam.
Members of the press were restricted to the back five rows of the auditorium, though that rule quickly went away as event organizers quickly tried to shuffle everyone in to seats in order to meet the 10 a.m. start time for the event.
Hundreds of bodies shuffled and reshuffled, with applause pouring in as Apple employees took their seats in the middle of the room, entering from a small elevator on the right among a few other doors. Overhead, popular recent songs blared as they typically do at an Apple event. The company is particularly fond of Foster the People and Coldplay, but this time it was HAIM's "The Wire."
At around 10 a.m., the lights went dark. Apple's formula is usually the same: an advertisement about the company that centers on how good it is at industrial design, followed by a number of updates and vanity stats like how many people have downloaded the newest software, and then the product announcement.
That was not the case this time.
As the lights went down, the crowd cheered so loudly it was nearly piercing. "It's great to be back in the Flint center," Cook said as he walked on stage wearing an untucked collared shirt as he typically does. "I usually go through a few updates, but we have so much to cover, I'm dispensing with those other than to tell you everything's great."
Apple did not stray too far from its playbook when it came to revealing the new iPhones. Cook jumped right away into the new devices, which come in two sizes and are considerably larger than the company's previous iPhones.
Apple has traditionally built smaller screens because it holds the philosophy that the phone should be optimized for one-handed use. But the company's core beliefs around what defines a good user experience are changing. For example, the company recently allowed developers to build custom keyboards, a holy tenet of the iPhone that was untouchable until earlier this year. Apple included, again to raucous applause, a one-handed mode that allows the user to effectively swipe the top half of the screen to the bottom half of the device.
Eventually the hype gave way to formula. Cook revealed the phone and called on head of marketing Phil Schiller, who breathlessly talked about the most intimate specifics of the device. Vanity stats abounded.
But, for all intents and purposes, the iPhone 6 was wind-up. Most of the phone's details had already leaked onto the Internet.
Cook would often frustrate viewers and reporters alike by not including a "one more thing," a famous line Apple founder Steve Jobs would mention as he surprised the audience with a new product. This time, that was not the case, as Cook finally had his own "one more thing" — a watch, designed by Apple, that was the first genuinely new product the company has released since the iPad in 2010. After that, the roof of the auditorium might as well have blown off, with employees jumping up and down out of their seats out of excitement. Meanwhile, reporters and bloggers in the back were frantically trying to Tweet out photos of the preceding video that revealed the true nature of Apple's watch.
Despite being a brand new and important product for Apple, it wasn't clear if it had the same "gasp" from the audience (aside from thunderous applause from employees) that the iPhone had gathered on its first reveal in 2007. Apple's watch, while still a new category for the company, doesn't represent something as truly revolutionary as the iPhone — at least, not yet, as it isn't yet open to developers who can create experiences that can define the importance of the product.
Reporters slowly began to trickle out before the event was even over, and before Cook had a chance to close it off with a spectacle the company is known for: a live music performance. This time, U2 came on stage and played at a volume that was at times a little painful to listen to, finishing up as Cook came back on stage. What followed was something that was both awkward and a little confusing, as Bono and Cook exchanged somewhat staged words before releasing U2's newest album for free on iTunes.
Despite the importance and scale of the event, the finale was back to Apple reality. The doors of the giant white construction had opened up to reveal an interior that felt much like a regular Apple retail store. The difference was that the Apple Watch and the larger iPhones were on display in glass cases and elevated into the air on rotating rods.
It was hard to get a grasp for how the Apple Watch actually worked, as the only ones reporters were allowed to touch and put on were effectively in demo mode.
The new iPhones, too, are as polished as one would expect from an Apple product. The 5.5-inch phone is large, though not overbearingly so, and the 4.7-inch phone seems like a natural evolution of the iPhone 5s. The one-handed mode is slightly awkward to use — it requires the user touch, but not press, the home button twice — but useful.
The NFC payments technology appeared to work perfectly fine, though in practice it's not clear if it will be widely adopted yet despite the number of large partners Apple has enlisted.
As the event wound down, reporters returned to the courtyard where they first arrived to quietly import photos from cameras and file stories. Including hands-on time with the devices, the event was a whopping two-hour presentation and about an hour of playing with the devices. Apple served coffee, water bottles and energy bars to drained reporters as they typed away under shaded tables. By 3 p.m., reporters slowly began trickling out of De Anza.
Apple's new phones come out on September 19 and the Apple Watch will come out sometime next year and cost around $349. It's not clear if either product will re-ignite growth of the company. At least, for now, we still have scarf guy.