Steve Jobs must be rolling in his grave.
No disrespect to the late Apple chief executive, but it quickly became apparent during the official announcement of the new iPhone 5 today that Apple lost a step in its discipline to keep its corporate mouth shut.
Jobs was always credited with a showman's sense of spectacle, both in his delivery during product announcements and in his iron grip on the spread of information about them ahead of launch. For the latter, it was to preserve a sense of mystery and instill a sense of occasion. That's what surprises are all about. Otherwise, why bother?
If an Apple product announcement leaves one overwhelmed by default -- over the last decade, one has needed no less than a chainsaw to cut through the thick hype surrounding the brand -- the introduction of the iPhone 5 left me merely whelmed. (Grammar sticklers: yes, I realize I'm using that word incorrectly. Lighten up.) Sure, it's taller. Sure, it's lighter. Sure, it's faster. Sure, it's called the iPhone 5, and not the iPhone 4S V-Spec.
But we knew about almost all of that from various leaks in the weeks leading up to the event. (OK, guys, you got us on the processor. But even that bit of information leaked hours before the event. Gosh.)
It is difficult to keep a supply chain in lockstep on the information front. It's even harder when you consider how many of these units need to be made to meet demand. And it's harder still when the gadget-buying public is expecting it anyway: an early Q4 refresh for your most profitable product, at exactly the time you normally refresh it. (At least an employee didn't leave a prototype at the bar this time!)
But the impact of the announcement is severely diminished when the rumors are consistent. The device becomes a sure thing; expected. It's not a matter of if; only when.
To be fair, Apple can't reinvent the wheel with every model, and critics can certainly complain that it didn't change the device enough to merit a full "1.0" update to its name. And you can argue whether the taller form factor is really an innovative move or a walking-back of a previous line of thought. It's to the company's credit that most of the hard work put into the device will only excite/enrage consumer electronics industry insiders. (How did they get the speaker that small?!) But all that doesn't matter, because we knew already.
Today, the magic was gone. Momentous? Sure. But not magical.
Five things Apple can do to bring the magic back:
1. Change the location of its announcements
2. Change the timing of its announcements
3. Leak misinformation about the next model
4. Plug the real internal/supply chain holes
5. Focus messaging on a single killer product/feature, rather than "It's just overall better, and by the way, we revamped iTunes and the iPod and the earbuds, too"