In 1997, Steve Jobs needed an ad campaign that told the world Apple was not only still a player, but it would embrace the misunderstood philosophy that caused the board to oust him 11 years prior. The Think Different campaign would end up becoming one of the most iconic messages of my lifetime and was the legacy that Jobs left behind. Since the iPhone was released in 2007, each keynote that unveiled the next thing began to degrade one by one. So much that the keynote for the iPhone 5 unveil only validated everything that we heard in the press for months. It felt as if John Sculley was back at the reigns and Apple had lost its edge. Today, that changed.
It began with the opening video at WWDC 2013.
The 1:30 video acts like the next chapter for Apple, but also as a reset in their coding. After Steve Jobs died in 2011, everyone wondered if Apple would ever be the same without its revolutionary, innovative leader. I never believed Apple was all Steve, but more the sum of its parts. Some of those parts, I felt and so did others, were holding the company back. In Steve’s absence, Tim Cook became the captain of the ship, but you could sense a couple of bad apples were spoiling the bunch.
Skeumorph: an object or feature which imitates the design of a similar artifact in another material.
The mass of groaning complaints pointed toward Apple’s SVP of iOS Scott Forstall and his adamant need to make Apple’s software design replicate the real world. From the faux leather stitching of the Calendar app to iBook’s page binding, much of it seemed like a low hanging fruit for a company many consider innovative. It was a far cry from the products Apple released since Jobs’s return – the translucent elements of the iMac disrupted our understanding of what a computer should look like and the aluminum body MacBook lineup proved customers favored sleek quality over affordable plastic.
This is probably a big reason why skeumorphism has been rejected; rending a physical object in the digital world is key to visual effects and video game artists, but operating systems are a tool, not a game we play for entertainment. In 2012, the design world and Apple fanatics rejoiced at the news that Forstall would be leaving the company. A chapter had ended, but what would the future bring? The picture began to come into focus when Apple announced that its English wonder boy, Jonathan Ive, would become the SVP of industrial design.
An Apple that’s Fallen Far From the Tree
The biggest leak during Steve Jobs’s tenure was well-publicized in 2010, when a developer forgot an iPhone 4 prototype behind at a bar in Redwood City, CA. Apple’s secrecy was the stuff of legends and when the tight ship of Apple’s secretive development process had a leak, a major one at that, it sent a shockwave through the Earth. The shock could have been equated to the excitement an adolescent boy has when he catches a glimpse down an unsuspecting girl’s shirt. What followed was an obsession with rumors that would spread to the everyday user.
In the years that followed, blogs and internet news sites would prey on the scavengers with headlines designed to amass page views which would translate into tremendous ad revenue. Everyone was an Apple insider suddenly, too. The rumor mill spun out of control, from “confirmed” reports of Apple’s new TV release date to the slim, tapered iPhone 5. The latter would make the iPhone 4s announcement feel like a dud and we’ve yet to see any evidence of an Apple designed TV. Last year, when the actual iPhone 5 was released it confirmed the leaks and assumptions that rumor sites had been posting over for the last 6 months. The media and the Apple elite let out a collective sigh. Suddenly it seemed Apple, the innovative entity who once let us believe that the cut of their jib stood among “the crazy ones”, was meeting the expectations of the realists and falling below the expectations of the optimists.
In the months leading up to the WWDC 2013, something had changed. We were in the dark.
“We’re going to double down on secrecy on products.” – Tim Cook at D10 Conference, May 2013.
Tim Cook wasn’t giving us a load of crap either. For the first time since iPhone 1, Apple guru John Gruber said he was completely in the dark about iOS and OS X. At the time, the only thing the rumor mill could confirm was Jonathan Ive’s comments about the new iOS design being flat – but what did that mean? The only inkling as to what this would be or what it would look like was an interestingly skewed photo. Besides the rumors of new Mac Pro’s, a streaming radio service, and new MacBook airs – the world was clueless to what Apple would reveal today.
When the event kicked off with the video at the beginning of this post, it was obvious something different was about to happen. For once, we were going into an Apple keynote without a laundry list of spoilers.
Apple unveiled a brilliant new OS X named Mavericks, a new iOS that trashed the skeumorphic design for a user interface (putting functionality before design), and many other new useful tools for our iDevices. The excitement from the media and social networks seem to resonate a collective understanding that Apple killed it today. Tim Cook ended the keynote by previewing a new TV ad, which begins airing on television tonight and is part of a new campaign which seems to tell the world Apple has not lost its way. The 1-minute manifesto reminds us that their success and their place in our world isn’t a mere coincidence – it was designed by Apple in California.