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Defining Moments of an Artist

A few moments in the history of Apple have so clearly defined the company that they hold a special place in the memory of those who love Apple. The introduction of the Macintosh. Steve's return to Apple. The introduction of the iPhone. One could sense the magnitude of these moments as they happened. Apple would lead technology in a new direction.

Accompanying each of these historic moments was an iconic ad expressing optimism and confidence, perfectly tailored to mark the moment. The 1984 ad. The Crazy Ones ad. 1 The Hello ad. These are some of the best ads ever made.

Two weeks ago at WWDC Apple introduced several major new products. The star of the show was iOS 7. Jony Ive tells us “we see iOS 7 as defining an important new direction and in many ways, a beginning.” The other major announcement was the new Mac Pro, which is Apple's most dramatic new hardware since the iPad 2. It truly deserves Phil Schiller's brash but playful “can't innovate anymore my ass” tagline. 3

On their own these new products are significant yet are not enough to represent a defining moment in the history of Apple. They are not breathtaking new product categories like the first Macintosh or the first iPhone. But they are the first groundbreaking products Apple has produced under Tim Cook's leadership. They are extremely bold and very much in line with the Apple ethos. More importantly, the new UI in iOS 7 is a direct result of the leadership changes Tim Cook made last fall.

This is clearly an important moment for Apple. Apple's business is not hurting as it was in 1996 and 1997, yet confidence in their future has suffered over the past year. Analysts, markets and media are questioning whether Apple will continue to change the world as they have in the past. Bold new products introduced with confidence 4 certainly help to address these problems of perception but only significant new product categories will make them go away. Until Apple is ready to reveal its next product category a different message is necessary.

When Steve Jobs introduced the Think Different campaign and the Crazy Ones ad he said “To me, marketing is about values” and reminded us that “core values shouldn't change”. He asked the questions “Who is Apple and what is it that we stand for? Where do we fit in this world?” and answered “Apple at the core, it's core value, is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.”

At WWDC Apple returned to this timeless theme of core values. They kicked off the conference with the Intention video. This video is Apple's artistic manifesto. It is simultaneously filled with emotion and yet beautifully minimal, perfectly matching Apple's intention and their products. I have watched it quite a few times now. It continues to inspire me every time. It was the perfect way to begin the next great phase of Apple's history.

At the end of the keynote Cook said “I'd like to close this morning with a reminder... the words that you saw at the beginning of the show are more than just words to us. They're the values we live by. They drive us... We've created an ad to help us express just how deeply we feel about this.” With those words he introduced the new Signature ad. This ad articulates the same core values as in 1997 but they are presented with a new, sharper focus on how they manifest in the world through Apple and its products. It reminds us how and why Apple is different and it makes the promise that this is not going to change.

As in 1997 Apple is speaking directly to customers with a simple, honest message. Apple believes in itself as an artist does. As an artist, Apple cherishes its products as works of art. And most importantly the work is done in service of making our lives better. Nothing less is good enough. This is why people love Apple and why Apple's products so consistently deserve that love. Apple can and will continue to change the world.

Steve's greatest gift to the world was an Apple that could survive and thrive without him. WWDC 2013 will be remembered as the moment when Apple first showed this to be true. In many ways it was the debut of the post-Steve Apple.

  1. Of course Steve Jobs did not narrate the original ad but I prefer the version with Steve to the original.
  2. Apple's use of the “next decade” vocabulary in discussing the Mac Pro and the new California naming theme for OSX explicitly echoes the terminology used by Steve Jobs in several product introductions including the introduction of Mac OSX in 2000. I do not believe this is a coincidence.
  3. Schiller's statement is a rather direct response to Wall Street analysts and the tech media doubting Apple's ability to innovate without Steve Jobs.
  4. Apple's leadership has taken several actions in recent months signaling a high vote of confidence in the future of Apple. This includes issuing the largest bond sale in corporate history to fund the largest stock buyback in corporate history (investing much of Apple's cash into Apple itself). It also includes a highly unsual adjustment to Tim Cook's compensation (undertaken at his request) which was revised with new downsides if Apple underperforms while including no new upside for Cook if Apple's performance exceeds expectations.