Why Apple events dominate the spotlight

Lex Friedman
7 March, 2012
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On Thursday morning, Apple will unveil something new. Apple’s not saying much yet about what it plans to show off on March 7 (March 8 in Australia); the invitation’s close-up photo of an iPad and its sparse text (“We have something you really have to see. And touch.”) are the only clues the company has offered thus far.

If you’re a regular reader of Macworld Australia, if you follow Apple news anywhere on the web or if you simply follow technology news anywhere on the web–you already know that this Apple event is happening. And you know that the general expectation for the event is that Apple will specifically take the wraps off a new incarnation of the iPad, sporting a much-improved display.

Isn’t that something?

The Apple event lifecycle

Apple events like Thursday’s have a lifecycle all their own and it’s a lengthy one. For months, there are rumours about what Apple may or may not be working on–many of those rumours laughably off-base. Then there are even rumours about when Apple will host its next special event to announce new stuff. News agencies rush to be first to report those dates once they’re confirmed; even the dates of Apple announcements themselves are news.

At some point, Apple emails invitations to chosen members of the technology press. Thus begins another round of mad scurrying, as Macworld Australia, other tech publications and broader news organizations scramble to publish stories about the invitations–and to tweet about the news, too. And then the invitation dissection begins.

This time around, online debate centred on whether Apple’s invitation showcased an iPad without a Home button or whether odd cropping, device orientation or overzealous Photoshop work was responsible. In addition to studying Apple’s invitation art pixel by pixel, of course, pundits analyse the text as well: In our own piece predicting what Apple might announce this week, my colleague Dan Moren and I wondered whether the “And touch” line in Apple’s invitation might imply some sort of haptic feedback could appear, say, when typing on the next iPad’s virtual keyboard.

On Thursday, the rumours will stop, however briefly. That’s when Apple will actually host the heavily-anticipated event, with at least a dozen sites (including Macworld Australia) liveblogging the showcase for online audiences. Major news networks will cover Apple’s announcements on their Thursday broadcasts. And come Friday–or, more realistically, come Thursday afternoon–pundits will start punditing again, weighing in on the positives and negatives of whatever the heck it is that Apple pulls out of its virtual hat.

Owning the news cycle

Apple’s ability to dominate tech news cycles before, during and after its special events is mind boggling and unique not just in its industry, but essentially all industries. What other company’s special events get so much attention? The closest analogy I can think of is something like the annual State of the Union address. The press speculates on what the President will say, the President says something and then the press talks about what the President said. It’s a days-long story.

But Apple–as surprising as this may be–isn’t the leader of the free world. That it captures so much media (and, thus, consumer) attention is exceptional.

Remember the Mobile World Congress? Don’t feel guilty if you’re not sure what that is. The event, hosted annually by the GSM Association in Barcelona, concluded just last week. It’s a massive mobile industry exhibition and conference–and Apple doesn’t participate. It’s not coincidental that the four-day event attracts only a mere fraction of the mind and media share that a 90-minute Apple event will generate. In skipping out on the Mobile World Congress, Apple doesn’t harm itself a whit; it scored a week’s worth of coverage by sending out invitations for an event taking place a week later.

How Apple does it

So why do Apple’s special events attract such extensive excitement and coverage? Put simply: Apple’s earned it. In general, the company–at least in the modern era kicked off when Steve Jobs returned as CEO–is fairly stingy with when it doles out these special events and clearly aims for each one to contain multiple “Wow” moments.

Remember that Apple didn’t schedule a special event to announce Mountain Lion; the company privately briefed various tech journalists in private. It could have scheduled an event like 2010′s Back to the Mac unveiling of Mac OS X Lion and that surely would have scored the same degree of press coverage before, during and after. But the less frequent Apple can keep such events, the more special those events become. Clearly, there’s no immediate risk of Apple Event Burnout yet and I consider the non-existence of a Mountain Lion event a preventative measure.

By ensuring that each event is, to use a favourite word of Apple’s, “magical,” the company keeps us (consumers and reporters alike) coming back. It’s not just about good marketing, good keynotes and reality distortion: The key is that Apple continually uses its events to showcase truly amazing and innovative products. Each Apple event is only as good as the products unveiled during that event; for the most part, those products are very, very impressive.

To explain why other companies can’t recreate the hoopla that surrounds Apple’s events, then, is actually pretty simple: Other companies can’t consistently create products as hoopla-worthy as Apple.


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