Of all the tech industry’s promotional rituals, the product launch keynote is the most hype-soaked of all — and of all of those, Apple’s is king. There’s something embarrassing, even disturbing, about the way even normally sedate business technology mastheads turn into real-time gossip machines, rebleating every hint of a rumour about what Apple might reveal, no matter what its provenance. And as for the tech gossip sites …
This season’s Apple product launch is scheduled for 0300 AEST Wednesday and will be streamed live. But the live blogs started yesterday our time, more than 24 hours beforehand, and the tech press has been ratcheting up the production of Apple-related stories for days. But with no actual news to report, it’s nothing but an echo chamber of speculation.
“This Could (Maybe, Possibly) Be The iPhone 6” reads one headline at Gizmodo. The story reports on a Chinese video, spotted by Apple rumour site 9to5mac, that purports to be a demonstration of Apple’s new smartphone:
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“Speculation in the comments of the 9to5mac post make for interesting reading, too. According to some, the curved 2.5D screen may suggest that Apple still isn’t using sapphire glass but a Corning Gorilla product instead. Elsewhere, speculation that the headphone jack is 2.5mm was swiftly shot down.”
Why it matters to anyone what sort of glass is used isn’t explained. It’s just more trivia for the rumour mill. “Of course, there’s no way of knowing for sure if this is real,” Gizmodo writes. But who cares? The video has been watched over 1.4 million times since it was released on the weekend. It’s all clicks. It’s all good.
It’s not that Apple isn’t worth watching. Apple is one of the world’s richest businesses, and over the years its products have defined whole categories of consumer technology. Personal computers with the Apple II, graphical computing with the Macintosh, laser printing with the LaserWriter, MP3 players with the iPod, smartphones with the iPhone, and tablet computing with the iPad.
While Apple will undoubtedly unveil a new iPhone tomorrow — it’s that time in the pre-Christmas product announcement cycle — the industry assumption is that the big announcement will be a wearable device that’s generally being referred to as the “iWatch”. “That should excite some, but it will also dawn on many that, unlike an iPad, iPhone, iPod or even an iMac, the iWatch is not a product for everyone,” writes Lance Ulanoff at Mashable, and I tend to agree. As Ulanoff observes, many people no longer wear wristwatches.
Can Apple convince us that the smartwatch should be yet another digital device in our lives, in addition to the smartphone and the tablet? Is the prospect of becoming part of the so-called “quantified self” movement, with the continual measurement and analysis of our everyday activities, attractive to anyone but the geekiest of geeks? Can Apple’s recruitment of designers actually make it fashionable to wear a digital watch 2.0?
More importantly, the whole idea of “wearable” technology has reached peak hype, according to Gartner’s latest Hype Cycle report. The hype about things like smartwatches has just passed what the analyst firm calls the “peak of inflated expectations”. Is Apple introducing its new device too late? Or will it breathe life into a category that has yet to come of age, as Apple did previously with the iPod and iPad?
Much will depend on the messaging in tomorrow’s keynote, and as 9to5mac observes in a well-informed feature on Apple’s PR machine, the company is “more impressive at shaping and controlling the discussion of its products than any other technology company”.
The tech press is already priming itself to absorb Apple’s messaging. Cynicism has been willing suspended. Expect their rapt attention to the new wearable and a slightly better iPhone. But don’t expect answers to more important questions, such as exactly how so many celebrities’ private photos were stolen from their iCloud service. No, look over here, it’s a shiny thing!