The Lost Charm: Why the Latest Apple iPhone Keynote is Rhetorically Deficient

sep_2013_event_invite

I have been a faithful Machead since I bought my first Apple product, an iPod shuffle, during Thanksgiving of 2009. I must admit that Apple got me at first touch. The sleek designs, the incredibly minimalistic interface, and genius branding – all have sucked me into the infinite loop of Apple fanaticism.

Soon after getting my first iPod, my love for Apple grew unstoppably. Like most Macheads, I fantasize to own all Apple devices. I requested from my parents an iPad 2 for my 21st birthday, won a 5th generation iPod Nano from a graphic design competition, and bought a MacBook Pro after my bachelor’s degree completion in 2011. Just last year, I signed a 2-year contract with AT&T to purchase an iPhone 5. I took pride being an Apple user and try to make the most of my devices.

Apple-event-1-109

I am also a follower of Apple special events. As a writing and communication scholar, I have always been interested in the art of public speaking and the use of rhetorical appeals in presentations. Regardless of my passion for Apple, I must confess that I am disappointed by how Apple did in recent public appearances. Since the passing of ex-Apple CEO Steve Jobs, I notice a huge drop in the quality of keynote presentations put together by Apple board members. No matter how hard presenters like current CEO Tim Cook and SVP Phil Schiller try to relive Jobs’ charisma, the charm of authenticity and Apple’s “Think Different” philosophy seem to have faded from recent keynotes.

From a rhetorical standpoint, I argue the following are obvious blunders Apple has committed in its keynote today.

Ethos Deficiency: The Absence of the Actual Products

I was anticipating to see the actual iPhones when I was following the keynote today. I mean, you are selling a new product but all I get to see are nice photographs and videos of the phone, come on! As a means for comparison, I choose Steve Jobs’ 2010 and 2011 introductions of the iPad/iPad2. Even though Steve Jobs was introducing to the world a whole new post-PC device in 2010, it took him less than 10 minutes to describe the then-new tablet PC and held in his hand the brand new iPad on which he did some real-time demonstrations. Similarly in 2011, during the launch of iPad 2, Steve Jobs introduced the new device at about 15 minutes into the presentation and SVP of iOS Software Scott Forstall did a live demonstration with the actual iPad on stage at about 34 minutes into the keynote.

In today’s keynote, the first (and only) time the audience/viewers get to see the new iPhone 5S was when the Infinity Blades brothers do a demo to show how nice the graphics get on the new A7 chip. It’s a shame that Apple has to reveal a new product through another company’s hand. It just doesn’t make sense. And it demoralizes the company’s image. Tim Cook/Phil Schiller could have just hand-passed the new product to the Blades brothers instead of getting them the first-hand advantage. Such a gesture reflects ownership on the product.

Plus, we don’t see the new iPhone 5C either. I suppose it’s a strategy to not showcase 5C since the main pitch really is 5S. But before I talk about the poor business rationale, I would like to point to the biggest flaw of the keynote – poor presentation.

Pathos Deficiency: Great Demo Videos, Mediocre Presentational Skills

Steve Jobs seemed to be the only person in Apple who knew how to use slide presentation to his advantage. As with all keynotes Apple does, visual complements are a big component in the presentation. The sad thing about a presentation is when the visual aids are better executed than the speech. I understand that it is not right to compare Steve Jobs to everyone else at Apple. But the company should at least keep up with the momentum set by its processor. Except for SVP for Software Engineering Craig Federighi, the rest of the presenters in this afternoon’s keynote lacked genuineness and passion in introducing the new phones. Craig Federighi is gifted with a friendly, non-threatening smile while Tim Cook and Phil Schiller don’t, in my humble opinion as a viewer. An annual event like this needs more energy and excitement, something that Steve Jobs never failed to accomplish.

In short, do away with the jargons, be more personal.

Logos Deficiency: Poor Product Rationale

The idea of introducing two new iPhones in one keynote is just bizarre. In fact, it feels awkward because the audience aren’t really looking forward to iPhone 5C – you can tell from the reaction of the crowd when the new phone was introduced (awkward silence). One can surely tell there is a white elephant in the room. The atmosphere only became less tense when iPhone 5S was finally revealed – the cheer was way louder, almost done due to relief. While I am not a business expert, I speak from a marketing perspective that pushing two similar products that eventually result in conflict of interest is absurd. I mean, people are not going to buy both iPhone 5C and 5S. The truth is a typical customer will only choose one. Why launch two products that will hurt either of the sale?

In terms of surprise at the launch – close to none. Most rumors around iPhone 5S and 5C on the web turned out to be very accurate.

When it comes to finishing – the craftsmanship of the new iPhone 5C – the design fall-short of its competitor’s product. The new 5C looks pale and cheap-ass. The sleekness in Apple’s brand image is singlehandedly destroy by this new launch. In fact, it wouldn’t be that bad if the colors were exactly the same as the current iPod Touch series, which suggest vibrance and energy.

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 10.20.59 PM

Nonetheless, I believe the quality of engineering and manufacturing remain in the new “forward-thinking” devices. I just hope that Apple would buckle up and rethink their marketing strategies. Since Steve Jobs’ vision for the Apple to be Different from other brand names has been blighted, descriptions like “revolutionary” and “cool” have lost their place in Apple’s brand association. If Apple’s marketing and PR teams remain blunt, there should be no surprise when Microsoft becomes the next hippy, especially with its latest purchase of Nokia’s handset division.

What do you think? Are you an Apple fan? What do you think of the keynote today?

2 thoughts on “The Lost Charm: Why the Latest Apple iPhone Keynote is Rhetorically Deficient

  1. 1. Absence of Actual Products

    I’ve been watching Apple release announcements since I’ve been about 15. Using the products on stage by just Steve Jobs is pretty typical, and I see no issues with what Apple did yesterday. They’ve always had a casual approach to displaying their new device upgrades (notable exceptions are when completely new product launches happen).

    As for Infinity Blade, they have used other products to demo their new processors since… well… the iPhone had the ability to run games. An embarrassment? I don’t think so. If anything, they displayed something their competitors currently can’t do because of fragmentation and lack of big-box game producers support.

    At this point, I feel you are nit-picking.

    2. Stop Comparing Others to Steve Jobs

    “I understand that it is not right to compare Steve Jobs to everyone else at Apple.”

    Yet, you continue to do so. Remember, most of the people you are talking about were hired in the Steve Jobs era. If they didn’t have passion, we would of surely seen them depart before now.

    Second, Steve Jobs RARELY gave the floor to the people who put just as much work in, or more, into the products that became huge successes. So it’s understandable that the newbies to stage haven’t exuded the same amount of enthusiasm that Steve did. I imagine having the pressure of the world + stock holders to please requires a bit of courage to get on stage! Nor was Steve Jobs always a great presenter himself.

    And if we compare this announcement to the industry standard announcement, the caliber of Apple’s finesse is still much higher.

    TLDR; Just stop comparing people to Jobs.

    3. Two Products, One Announcement

    This is pretty standard practice as well for Apple. The logistics of holding two events for similar products doesn’t make much sense. While I agree it was long-winded (yay, new colors with old innards!!!!!), I didn’t feel the drastic response that you did. Yet, Apple likes to give attention to anything that is new. And this move is also remarkably close to their other products paths, especially the iPod Nano line.

    Also, Apple has never been afraid to cannibalize sales in pursuit of massive future gains.

    4. More Surprises

    There were no surprises. This is a mild problem. To be fair, Steve Jobs had this problem towards the end as well (remember Gizmodo stumbling across the iPhone 4 in a bar?). It’s just much more pronounced, and I am sure it is an issue that Tim Cook has taken into account.

    5. I Am Not an Apple Fan

    I own a Chromebook, and a desktop E-machines PC. I owned a Macbook for about three weeks, then sold it to a friend. I have always had a love affair with my iPod’s though, and I once owned an iPhone for about four weeks.

    I really like Apple, a lot. I am copying Steve Jobs book! Growing pains are still happening, and I think your analysis of this presentation was a bit cynical. Which is the tone that most bloggers appear to be taking, putting me in the minority.

    • Hey Holden! Thanks for the comments but I maintain my views on the presentation. While I am also a minority when it comes to expertise in the smartphone/i-device industry, I think my observation is representative of the majority lay people using Apple products (who are a major market for the company). I agree that comparing everyone to Steve Jobs is unfair — but he serves as a benchmark for excellence in such presentation, so I will continue to use him as a standard for all launches of this kind, not just for Apple. I don’t think this analysis is cynical at all. As a fan I am being quite generous comparing some viral reactions to the launch (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/technology-science/technology/iphone-5s-5c-top-10-2266000).

      That being said, I am looking forward to getting my hands on the new 5S. Love the lover but hate the sin, they said, right?

What do you think? Share your thoughts here!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s