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

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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.

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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.

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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?

Movie Review: Monsters University

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For many of us who are fortunate enough to afford higher education, going to college is akin to flipping the page and embarking upon a new chapter in our lives. Monsters University reminds me of the time when I first arrived at the new college campus (at a foreign country) and the excitement that rushed through my veins to all parts of my body as I knew that it was the start of an adventure. Watching Monsters University puts me back into that thrill mode.

Directed by Dan Scanlon, Monsters University is a prequel to the 12-year-old Monsters, Inc. (2001) starring the inseparable Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) and James “Sulley” Sullivan (John Goodman) as freshmen at the scarring school. The movie brings us back to the childhood time of Mike and sets the stage for when Mike was aspired to become a “scarer” during a field trip at Monsters, Inc. If you weren’t too young when you watched Monsters, Inc., you should remember that scarers are responsible to enter the human world to scare kids in their sleep so they can collect scream energy to power the Monsters’ metropolis.

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In order for Mike to qualify as a scarer, he needs to attend a scarring school. Fast forwarding to his first semester at Monsters University, Mike met the then-talented-but-indolent Sulley who bears an august family name. After several incidents Mike and Sulley became rivals and got themselves into trouble with the icy, authoritative Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) during the final examination day. In order to continue with the scare program, Mike and Sulley made a bet with the dean and were compelled to participate in the annual Scare Games, where fraternities and sororities at Monsters University compete for the glorifying championship.

The rivals then joined Oozma Kappa, a group of misfits at Monsters University, to compete with Roar Omega Roar, the elite fraternity, among other Greek groups in the Scare Games. The group been through ups and downs during the competition, became a laughingstock of the entire campus, and finally advanced to the final challenge with Roar Omega Roar. After a tight contest, Oozma Kappa emerged as winner of the Scare Games for the very first time. Mike, however, was devastated when he learned that Sulley manipulated the equipment to help him win the final challenge.

To prove his capability of becoming a scarer, Mike sneaked into the school lab and entered the door to the human world. Sulley, who was guilty of his act, followed Mike’s footsteps in order to rescue him. Trapped in the human world, Mike figured out that the only way to get back into the monsters world was to generate enough scream energy to bring them back to the school lab. They finally succeeded but were expelled from the university for their actions. Sulley and Mike later joined Monsters, Inc. in the company mailroom and worked their way up to cafeteria boys, then to can wranglers, and eventually become a part of the Scare Team, making possible for the events in Monsters, Inc. the movie.

Compared to recent Pixar movies, namely Brave (2012) and Cars 2 (2011), Monsters University lacks a focused lesson to take away from watching the movie. The prequel covers moral stories related to friendship, ambition, determination, honesty, and self-confidence. However, the central lesson seems vague as there were multiple climaxes in the plot. For those who haven’t watch Monsters, Inc., the friendship between Mike and Sulley may not appear solid enough in Monsters University, as it doesn’t touch quite the depth of Woody and Buzz from Toy Story.

Nonetheless, Monsters University portrays the campus life to its finest. The images of campus architectures, pop culture references, and the tradition of touching a campus statue (John Harvard?) for good luck all glorify the public expectations of an American college lifestyle. Prior to screening, Monsters University revealed a fully functional “school website” (www.monstersuniversity.com) as a teaser for the film. As a marketing geek, I was awe-struck by this ingenious gimmick that parodied the college experience in such a brilliant way.

All in all, Monsters University is still a funny entertainment of the family. The storyline is not quite surprising but remains its charm that would capture the hearts of the youngsters. The only misfortune was its simultaneous release with Despicable Me 2, a Universal Pictures animation that opened to No.1 in the North American in its first weekend, according to Box Office Mojo.

Rating for Monsters University: 8/10 stars

This review was originally written for University Chronicle.
Images by Nerdist.com, Cdnvideo.dolimg.com