Mark King / Design & Art Direction
Apple. Slick Media Players.
Apple launches have turned into cultural events in their own right. No scruffy press releases spattered with lo-res photos from Apple. Oh no.
More from Mark King / Design & Art Direction
There is a beautifully designed summons, intimating that something is about to occur. There is no clue as to what it is apart from a symbolic, graphic hint on the invite. In this case an Apple-shaped sound hole on a guitar. Alarmingly, an acoustic guitar and not an electric model. Still, you reply. They reply – instantly. You register your mobile number, drop everything and go to where they say, when they say. And, oddly – despite doing their bidding blindly – you turn up feeling excited and privileged.
There is a scrum of stylish people wearing black with the token anti-fashion, indie tech geek thrown in. The venue is a fashionably restored old brewery. There’s only bottled water. You wait – and wait – then register again with a male supermodel in an Apple t-shirt. You are politely told that the Wi-Fi native to the venue has been overidden by Apple’s own, just for today and that it will be superior. It is. It’s instantaneous and you wonder if Apple have positioned their own satellite directly overhead. Just for today. The crowd are already logging-in to it on their Macbooks, iPhones and iPads while they are still standing and waiting. There are clusters of accents from all over Europe. French, Polish, Spanish and others. All fresh from the Eurostar or just rushed in from City Airport still holding Swiss Air tagged hand luggage. It is cool and polite but with an undercurrent of vicious self as elbows are used to ensure the best auditorium seats on the best row. Scores of Apple employees-slash-supermodels show you to seats. I bagged centre, row three – ellbows bruised. Heads meercat around to see who’s there. Everyone is filmed and everyone is filming each other, photographing and blogging live. Media filming the media. This is not just a launch. It’s tech Fashion Week.
It gets a little odd when the cool media-types start photographing the Apple logo on the huge cinema screen. Why? It’s the Apple logo. White on an acre of black. Calm down. We are basically in a custom-built cinema waiting for a man to talk about media players over a satellite feed yet the media players here seem to have lost any sense of perspective. There’s no atmosphere of bored cynicism that pervades any other launch. Maybe that’s a good thing as it’s usually journalists sighing, waiting to be entertained and impressed. Here it feels that if they were told to kneel and pray to the logo, they would – and film each other doing it.
After an hour, the satellite feed kicks in. Live HD images of another auditorium filled with more media types, this time in California. The camerawork swoops over the auditorium in a similar style to the filming of the Oscars. Oddly, people here actually start to stand up and film that. Media people filming a film of more media people on a screen from a different continent. Good grief. Why?
Steve Jobs walks onto the stage and his audience clap. The audience here clap too. He can’t hear that but it’s oddly polite. He talks about the usual massive business figures that are the signature start to every Apple key-note speech. It’s accompanied by stunning photographs of new Apple stores around the globe. Massive set-piece buildings in the best locations that have all either been restored or are sci-fi modern and new. Converted Opera houses in Paris and a store in the Louvre (The Louvre? Really?) A whole block of Covent Garden restored over 18 months. Not leased. Purchased. If he’d have shown an image of Buckingham Palace or – more fittingly – Canterbury cathedral with the Apple logo on it I wouldn’t have been surprised. And this is where the satellite audience and the audience around me started to diverge. In California, the clapping and whooping is in reaction to the business figures that allow these architectural masterpieces to be created. Here, it’s in reaction to their design.
Despite this being predominantly a tech crowd it’s the changes in the product aesthetics that prove most popular. Rows and rows of people sit with glowing laptop screens on their knees. It feels surreal essentially being in a cinema where hundreds of people are typing silently into laptops. The volume of fingers on keyboards rises and falls in waves. When Steve Jobs is listing the technological changes to his range of iPods, the clatter of typing rises in rhythm and volume as the audience type his every word and their reactions to his every word, uploading it all in real-time to their tech blogs and websites. When Steve pauses for breath, the noise of typing subsides. When he unveils a new logo – one that will be on millions of homescreens in just an hours time – the European audience stands and photographs it. But it’s when he reveals a product visual that the audience gasps and the keyboards fall silent.
Of all the corporations in the world, Apple is the one who truly understands the power of modern design. They have always made products which feel that form has been arrived at first and the internal tech innovated to fit. Technically, Apple have produced some truly culture-changing pieces of technology. Yet it’s their – or rather designer Jonathan Ives’ – aesthetic that has turned the company around. That has been the master stroke. You may not understand the tech underneath but you don’t need to. Of course it’s beyond innovative but when you are so seduced by the object itself, your lack of knowledge about its mechanics doesn’t matter.
Other companies make you feel inadequate if you don’t understand the algebraic names, serial numbers and specs of all the inner bits. Being made to feel like a fool is not a great sales tactic. With Apple, you are not patronised but seduced. Having good design to paw over puts distance between you and the product’s unfathomable interior. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get how it works. You’d probably buy it even if it didn’t. Other companies make boxes full of boring soldering and components then patronise you about them. Apple have positioned themselves into producing Objects of Desire that work by mysterious modern magic. They might be clever but good god they are pretty and who cares how the supermodel breathes and thinks when they look that good? Then the supermodel turns out to be a genius as well.
And it’s innovation in design that keeps the customers coming back for more, as much as whatever is inside. Steve Jobs is now unveiling the new iPod Nano over the satellite feed. The auditorium claps. They can’t help it and any slight feeling of self-consciousness that was left has been swept away in the appreciation of something desirable.
As a Brit leading the design world, Jonathan Ives is over in the US, ruling the school like fellow Brit design icon Anna Wintour. I don’t need a new jacket. But she can make me want one. I also technically have a better media player in my pocket. But look at the Nano’s lovely multi-touch screen and the new graphite finish. I may not need it but Jonathan Ives has made me want it. This member of the media has been well and truly played. Wintour has her Fashion Week. This is his.