The post-Steve Jobs product keynotes: From true command to shock-and-awe to vaporware risk

M.G. Siegler for 500ish:

If you’re anything like me, when you see the phrase “Product Keynote” you still think of one thing: an Apple event with Steve Jobs on stage. We are, of course, far removed from that era at this point. But it remains the standard to which all other product keynotes — including Apple’s current variety — aspire and are held… In the Jobs era, pretty much every thing else was a tighter package when it came to announcements and shipping dates…

That has changed in recent years at Apple, of course. The most notable example is probably the recent Mac Pro announcements (we still don’t know the ship date, by the way). But that was part of a mea culpa gameplan by Apple, having screwed up the previous Pro (and pro products in general) so badly. It was a “stick with us, here’s why” type thing. Then there is Apple’s new push into services, which included a slew of pre-announcements like Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade. I’m still not clear why they announced them so early, or that they should have, but okay. Most notoriously, we have AirPower, a product that was promised well-ahead of it being ready, that ultimately fell into the vaporware bucket, unfortunately. Again, that is the real risk here.

MacDailyNews Take: The further out you announce things, the more vaporware risk you assume. Some of these things (i.e. Mac Pro) require a large gap between reveal and shipping date for the reason Siegler gives. Others, like AirPower, are just perplexing. Obviously, someone with pull at Apple felt it was a foregone conclusion that they’d solve the problems in time and it went all the way to being shown at a keynote. Hey, mistakes happen!

Regardless, Apple is a huge company with suppliers all over the world and stuff leaks constantly now, much more than during the Jobs era, when the company was smaller and had far fewer supplier cats to herd, so some things have to be shown/leaked earlier, if Apple wants to better control the message.


  1. While his central argument has a point I’m not sure why the criticism of the Arcade/Apple TV+ pre launches. Both those especially the latter, needed to build up substantial momentum and gain the latter could hardly be kept secret could it and Apple would have got massive stick if it kept quiet, just as it did when it wouldn’t give pricings for the service despite events subsequently proved they were absolutely correct to do so when it suited them rather than their competitors.

  2. This is just pure BS.

    Other vendors can ship new hardware within weeks (and sometimes days) of an announcement. Further, they can ship in quantity equipment built around their suppliers announcing new component availability. Apple announced that they were designing a new Mac Pro years ago. That’s right, Apple supposedly been working on the upcoming (we hope) Mac Pro for YEARS!

    There is absolutely no excuse for Apple to not have a shipping date for those computers. ALL, literally ALL, the components Apple gets from outside suppliers have been available and shipping for several months. Some components have been shipping for well over a year. Apple has been privy to vendor inside design processes for some devices (e.g., Intel CPUs) for much longer than that.

    Is the problem with the pending, new Mac Pro the same as the problem was with the AirPower — that the people within Apple can’t work out the bugs in the Apple parts of the design? Is the problem that Apple can’t get it done and does not know how to get it done? If so, is Apple’s current way of treating potential customers the mode of telling customers, “It will be there. Just trust us. Some day it will ship. Just trust us.”

    In Jobs’ day he’d have walked into the design team and said, “Fix it by XYZ date, or you’re fired.” Cook and the rest are so afraid of having a revolt by the design team that they are afraid to set any hard deadline with significant consequences if those deadlines are not met.

    Some of you may recall several years ago that Apple was shipping an advanced desktop that for a few months the U.S. Government restricted its shipping to non U.S. countries. No other company got hit with that restriction as no other desktop by any other company hit those limits on exporting a certain level of computational capability. Apple was actually SHIPPING very cutting edge systems that were clearly better than any others. But, today the only brand new Mac Pro (the trash can Mac) you can buy is a joke, and it has been a joke for over two years!

    Back in the late 70s and early 80s a common expression was, “Nobody gets fired for buying IBM.” Only slightly less prevalent was the phrase, “IBM doesn’t really deliver, they just tell us how good it is going to be.” The significance of these two things is that IBM had dominant control over the computing industry during that period, everything from the desktop to a significant fraction of the super computer world. Then companies that could move faster and actually SHIP innovative hardware and software virtually killed IBM’s core business.

    So what do we have today from Apple? They’re telling us “just how good it’s going to be.” Apple is a powerhouse today. Will Apple be a shadow of what it is today in 10 years? I tend to believe it is possible if Apple does not get its act together and start shipping cutting edge hardware and software that is relatively bug free.

    1. “Fix it by XYZ date, or you’re fired.”
      No, Steve would have, and actually said “I would milk the Macintosh for all it’s worth – and get busy on the next great thing.“

      Steve was the guy that famously thumbed his nose at the Final Cut Professionals, ignoring what they wanted, and releasing iMovie Pro. 🙂 There’s no new MacPro yet because it’s not terribly important to Apple. Most everyone who cares have already switched to other platforms, and those that are still waiting for Apple to do something, will CONTINUE to wait for Apple to do something, even if it’s 1 or 2 more years out.

    1. The reason Jobs did that was because he was presenting something radically different than was the standard at that time and he wanted to build interest in both the relevant media and the public. If Jobs had announced in in June and shipped it a few days later sales would have been mediocre at best and the whole iPhone line might have turned out less of a hit than the QuickTake camera. It had nothing to do with Apple having problems building them.

      Jobs wasn’t presenting something that was just a simple evolution of what Apple had been selling for years. It wasn’t as if he was announcing the iPhone 3G when the original iPhone had been shipping for quite a while. It was more like Apple announcing a hopped up Global from Earth Final Conflict or the rollable, screen only device used by Val Kilmer’s character in Red Planet. If Tim Cook announced either one of those today, I’d gladly give Apple six months to actually ship them in quantity — and I might be first in line at my local Apple store to get one!

      If you want to point to something real, point to the PowerMac that Apple announced at a certain price point and certain CPU clock rate, then had to both raise the price and lower the CPU clock rate before the Macs were shipping in quantity. However, you may recall the problem was really with Motorola not being able to make the previously announced quantities and clock rates. Apple wasn’t really the source of the problem, but in most media and the general public perception it was all Jobs’ and Apple’s fault.

  3. Apple has more riding on the new Mac Pro than they might realize. A total flop would mean Apple would have to reassess if they want to be in the Pro market as opposed to just consumer market. This would mean an assessment if they would want to be in the computer business at all and the possible end of the Mac.

    An overwhelming success would be a clear indication that many professionals really value Apple’s ecosystem.

    The Pro will be too expensive for consumers or even non full time professionals to make either happen.

    The iMac Pro is a good choice for professionals but not those at the top. Those keyboard problems on the MacBook Pro computer has made it really hard to justify the extra initial expense based on quality or “it just works”.

    It looks to me that the new Mac Pro might just be a home run but a long foul ball to left is a big zero.

    1. Steve didn’t want to announce the original iPhone in January 2007. He did so because, although the software (known as iPhone OS at the time) was still being finished, the iPhone was due to begin the wireless device testing and certification phase at the FCC. Once submitted to the FCC, the iPhone would be visible to anyone who reviewed the schedule of pending certifications. It’s odd that you chose to omit this fact to try to make your point.

      1. Actually, as someone who has filed confidential applications with the FCC and gotten licenses based upon those confidential applications, I know that not all submissions are public. Unless you’re working with the NTIA as well as the FCC once the licenses are issued they are almost always public. But, there are ways to delay the issuance of a license to keep it confidential until you want it to be public.

        Apple may not have wanted to go through the time, money, and effort to keep an application, testing, and reports confidential so your thoughts as to why there was the long lead between announcement and shipping may have a modicum of merit, but it is very likely a very minor part of the overall rationale.

    2. Apple already gave away the pro Mac market. Thanks to a special combination of weak old locked down hardware plus the highest prices in the biz, plus Apple spending the last decade working on iOS instead of investing a dime in everything else they used to do well, the Mac has been managed to be an < 8% market share platform. With its stratospheric price tag, new Mac Pro tower will not attract significant numbers of new users to the fold.

      Someday MDN will wake up and realize that no developer puts his effort primarily to the minority platform, especially the one that Apple obviously doesn’t care about. There are fewer and fewer premium industry-leading titles exclusive to the Mac. Instead Mac customers are offered hand-me-down apps from Windows, and now from iPadOS. Of course there are exceptions, but Catalina signals the end of the line for many of formerly happy Mac users. We shall soon see how many developers simply don’t bother to replace their mature 32 bit apps.

      Unfortunately Apple’s choice to hold ridiculous price margins also means that its other platforms will be passed by. Windoze and Android attract all the developers, good and bad. Some titles are ported to Apple OSes, but not the other way. That is the sad reality of what always happens when you stick up your nose and refuse to capture a commanding durable lead in market share. If Apple wants to resurrect the Mac, cutting off 32 bit software that just works is not the way. Trotting out expensive machined towers that look literally like a cheese grater and cost a fortune because of the special fashion features will also not save the platform. Trying for 4 years to convince laptop users that the butterfly keyboard isn’t total garbage will also not endear confidence.

      Apple needs to take some of its cash pile and create affordable Macs and Mac software that do things no other platform can do. It’s painfully obvious that Apple management has not figured out what PERSONAL COMPUTER customers loved about the Mac, and how much Apple has strayed from that promise. Timmy would rather rent you media and have overpriced fashion boutiques with fancy architecture than sell a computer with less than a 30% (now sometimes 80%) Apple Tax. All you have to do is test drive the competition to see what an out of touch ripoff Apple is allowing itself to become.

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