WWDC 2013: Apple’s Signature

A week ago today Tim Cook and other Apple executives delivered the Keynote address to the 2013 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). You can read extensive coverage of the event at any number of tech blogs, but a quick list of the announcements includes OS X Mavericks, updated MacBook Airs, iWork for iCloud, iTunes Radio, a re-imagined Mac Pro, and iOS 7. Having had a week to digest the information it’s now time to reflect on what they mean for Apple. In future posts I’ll go into specific thoughts on the individual product announcements but for now I want to focus on the overall tone of the Keynote and the future of Apple.

One comment that I’ve seen bandied about that I absolutely agree with is that last Monday’s event marks the first Apple event of the truly post-Steve Jobs era. It’s true that there have been several Apple announcements since Steve’s retirement and passing, but I really feel that this Keynote is the first one that was wholly conceived by an Apple under Tim Cook’s regime — and it was awesome.

If there is one word that could be used to characterize the performances given by Tim Cook, Phil Schiller, and Craig Federighi on stage it would have to be “relaxed”. Instead of the focused intensity of a Jobsian event we had executive cracking-wise about “green felt” and “innovation my ass”. This was a presentation delivered not by an authoritarian leader, but by a collaborative team. I’m heartened to see Tim Cook realize that his strengths are not Steve’s. Much has been made of the changes that Tim Cook has made in the last year to Apple’s product management structure. I think it’s obvious from Monday’s event that a Cookian structure of collaborators can work just as well, if not better, than a collection of independent fiefdoms.

There was another thing Apple unveiled on Monday, not a product explicitly announced at the Keynote, but something that I think is crucial to understanding Apple and its corporate vision. It takes the form of a set of videos, one that was shown before the keynote and a television commercial that has been running in heavy rotation. You can view the videos on the page that Apple has created for them here. I believe that, together, these videos lay out Apple’s vision of the future. The text of the advertisement is as follows:

This is it.
This is what matters.
The experience of a product.
How it makes someone feel.
When you start by imagining
What that might be like,
You step back.
You think.

Who will this help?
Will it make life better?
Does this deserve to exist?
If you are busy making everything,
How can you perfect anything?

We don’t believe in coincidence.
Or dumb luck.
There are a thousand “no’s”
For every “yes”.
We spend a lot of time
On a few great things.
Until every idea we touch
Enhances each life it touches.

We’re engineers and artists.
Craftsmen and inventors.
We sign our work.
You may rarely look at it.
But you’ll always feel it.
This is our signature.
And it means everything.

Designed by Apple in California.

I can sense already the response from the more cynical in the audience: “overblown bullshit” and “hippy claptrap” but I think this perfectly captures the spirit of Apple. It addresses the constant calls from the Wall Street analysts and ADHD-addled gadget bloggers for Apple to move into every possible market and sector. It explains why Apple’s executive team takes such umbrage at shoddy knock-offs. More than anything, though, I think it lays out, in as explicitly a way as is possible, the “vision” foolish writers claimed Tim Cook failed to articulate in his D11 appearance:

We spend a lot of time
On a few great things.
Until every idea we touch
Enhances each life it touches.

In my opinion this has been, from the return of Steve Jobs at least, the singular goal of Apple. Not to make all the moneys, not to dominate markets, not to impress bloggers but simply to make products that enhance our lives.

I know that the neo-Luddites and hipster cynics will scoff at that statement. My response to them is simply “fuck you”. With the iPhone a large number of people now carry in their pockets a device with more computing power than the vast majority of humanity has ever experienced. A device that puts the sum total of human knowledge and culture at, literally, our fingertips. A device that enables communication and collaboration across the world.

I look at my mother, 71 years old, who has never used a computer in her life. She now uses her iPad habitually to access information. The iPad has empowered her more than any single device created in the last fifty years, and it has done that job so seamlessly that she barely even notices.

This is Steve Jobs’ vision, it’s Tim Cook’s vision, it’s Apple’s vision and the signature is their promise to keep trying to live up to that vision.