Was Apple’s Watch keynote good enough?

One of the weirder moments in Apple keynote history.
One of the weirder moments in Apple keynote history.
Image: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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Even from a distance, the event Apple put on this week to introduce its new Apple Watch felt unlike anything it has done before. While Apple’s famous keynote events always draw a lot of attention, this was off the charts. But was it great?

A new level of hype

The absolutely crazy level of attention Apple demanded and the hype it built up stands out in particular. Apple’s presentation style has historically been cool—underpromise and vastly overdeliver, without breaking a sweat.

This time, Apple went out of its way to attract attention, inviting not only its typical journalist and tech-executive guests, but also the global fashion set and various grades of celebrities, many of whom tweeted and Instagrammed as if they were attending a Hollywood awards show. Singer Gwen Stefani posted from her private-jet ride with Apple employee Dr. Dre.

Apple was very obviously trying to create a different kind of circus—and generate a new level of awareness—than it normally does.

The Tim Cook show

Along those lines, Tim Cook had a different personality on stage than in any Apple product keynote we can recall. He also spent significantly more time on stage—37 minutes—than in any other Apple event since he became CEO. (His average over nine previous events was roughly 18 minutes.)

Tim Cook keynote time chart

Cook went deeper than usual into product announcements, and felt less scripted—except for an awkward exchange with U2’s Bono at the end. And while Cook has loosened up as a public speaker over the years, he seemed particularly boisterous this time. “It is so cool!” he exclaimed after showing off Apple’s new mobile-payments system.

A different product introduction

Of course, the real star of the event was supposed to be Apple’s new watch—the “next chapter in Apple’s story,” as Cook called it. Did Apple give it the introduction it deserved?

Writer Ben Thompson analyzes this at his site, Stratechery, comparing it to the events where Steve Jobs introduced Apple’s last three market-changing products, the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. One thing stood out: In those, Jobs went out of his way to explain why Apple was creating those devices, show why they were great, and convince viewers why they need one.

But as Thompson notes, this time was different: “we never got an explanation of why the Apple Watch existed, or what need it is supposed to fill. What is the market? Why does Apple believe it can succeed there? What makes the Apple Watch unique?” Many demos were compelling, but others generated the exact wrong reaction: Why wouldn’t I just do this on my phone?

The good news is that Apple has time. The watch isn’t going to ship until next year, and there isn’t really any threatening competition. This gives Apple time to craft a tighter message, and ideally, find more applications that make a stronger case for owning one. The initial buzz seems positive. So in this case, Apple’s chest-thumping probably paid off. But let’s not do this every time.