The Empty Magic of Steve Jobs

iPad and magic wand

On the 27th of January, Steve Jobs, whilst  demoing his new iPad, declared that hyperlink navigation is “magic”.  In response, more than a thousand geeks cheered and applauded.

How can this be?

Although the iPad is a nice little piece of technology, it’s hard to see what is “magic” in leafing through the Times or accessing the same Google Maps that we have been using for years… and yet,  Steve Jobs manages to make it look exciting.

More, he confidently states that his product will offer the BEST browsing experience despite it not supporting Adobe’s Flash player (thus discarding a vast majority of web sites), and gets away with it.

What is this incredible marketing trick? Am I the only one puzzled by this?

For years, Apple have carefully crafted their story around the awesomeness coming from the simplicity of their products. The message is dispatched consistently through all communication media: a simple and awesome product, a simple and clean website, simple cool-effects in keynotes slideshows, a simple white display in Apple stores, and even Steve Jobs’ simple and cool outfit.

A tribe of fans have emerged, bought in to these core values. Steve Jobs has became a model to follow for entrepreneurs. His way was the way to go.

This was all good, when it was true. However, on the 27th of January, it became a brainwash.

The hype and secrecy surrounding Apple development has built a hypnotized audience that is ready to be impressed, want to be impressed, and will be impressed by anything. Is this the secret of entering a new market? Can marketing effort alone make up for a poorly featured V1 product?

I hope not.

10 comments on “The Empty Magic of Steve Jobs
  1. Konrad says:

    I am not sure I understand what you mean by ‘a vast majority’ in referencing Adobe Flash. I think that the majority of websites does not use flash; and that’s not a bad choice, even if you’re not geared towards the iPhone or iPad.

  2. Marketing effort alone has made up for below par products forever, there is nothing new there. VHS won over Betamax, XBOX is more popular that the PS3, some people bought the BMW X5, 10 copies of Windows are shipped for every 1 copy of OSX … :-) etc. etc.

    In the case of the iPad it’s not a techie toy admittedly, but I know 8 or 9 relatives or friends for whom it will be an excellent piece of kit, I believe the real magic happens when the developers get hold of it.

    The young, the disabled, the keyboard shy, the ‘not interested in computers I just wanna browse Ebay’ and the learning challenged will all benefit from the simplicity and UI of this device

    It won’t replace my iPhone or my Sony eBook Reader or my 17” MacBook, but I have some ideas that I think are crying out for a device such as the iPad. There are omissions and limitations but nowadays release early is expected and necessary if you want to start ahead of the game.

    Besides, the gauntlet has been thrown, let’s see what Google and Microsoft can do. If they can do better then I’ll buy theirs instead :-)

    Just my 0.02p. I can’t wait to see how this pans out :-)

  3. Rob C says:

    So I’m inclined to agree there – when Microsoft launch a new app, everyone points out the flaws and kicks them for it. They have to prove it’s worthwhile.

    When Apple launches a new product, people are happy to ignore the missing features, giving them the benefit of the doubt.

    That’s not to say they shouldn’t – I’m not arguing here whether or not the iPad is useful – but they seem to be one of the few companies who people will let make mistakes in a v1, and accept they’ll (hopefully, maybe…) fix them later.

    With regards VHS / Betamax, yes, it was a marketing win rather than a technical one, but I think we’re seeing something on a wholly different scale here. Sure, more people bought VHS, but I don’t think they got quite as excited about it (and blinded by it?) as an iPad :-).

  4. WalterSear says:

    Empty magic? From a talking head? Whatever next?

    It’s a product launch.

    The head of the company comes out and explains that the product is the second coming and that he is cheating on his wife with it.

    You can’t hold Steve Jobs to any higher standard than any other talking head at the front of a company. I suspect you doeth protest too much: perhaps you are putting too much credence by this guy and the extra large itouch he sleeps with under his pillow every night. Don’t worry, you are in good (and plenty) company.

    URLs are magic? We ‘forgot to include Flash?’ Well, the URLs are magic but I know what you are getting at: it’s -last year’s- magic. So what? The whole product is recycled. He spinning the old as the new – after all, it’s his job to be a walking Apple commercial.

    And Flash? As a flash developer, I’m cheering: it’s a dog. It’s such a dog, I wouldn’t be surprised if Flash had been veto’d on the iPhoneOS not so much (or not completely) due to commercial politics as due to prevent frustrated iPhone/iPad users discovering that “a vast majority of web sites” (as you refer to Flash websites) hang or crash their device. Put it out of it’s misery, or make them fix it: we have better tools.

    Apple marketing genii are, yet again, prewriting history to make sure they are remembered as the inventors the touchscreen/thin client/internet appliance/hyperconnectivity wave of convergence they are riding, alongside us all. And, of always, when they speak, they corner the discussion. They do this once or twice a year, and everyone drops their pants, and pants. Pavlovian.

  5. A Steve Jobs presentation, like a Japanese tea room ceremony raises the importance of every gesture and utterance. Everything is freighted with heightened importance and anticipation. There is space. There is silence. Very zen. Remember, you are watching a performance. An exquisite performance that as a side effect is hawking a gizmo. It is in this context you should interpret his “hyperlink magic” utterance.

  6. Tom says:

    Is it something Apple can control though?

    OK they have their product launches, but their marketing of new products prior to launch is non existent. In fact they do everything they can to maintain complete secrecy.

    This naturally raises excitement because what they launch is a surprise.

    The hype generated is earned, because their products have in the past set new boundaries and revolutionised markets.

    Apple, whether you love or hate them have a track record of innovation.

    I suspect the iPad has seen the most hype yet because of the increased potency of social media (twitter), and millions new users resulting from the success of the iPhone.

    Okay the demos can be a bit over dramatic – but I don’t know any company that’s not guilty of over hyping their product?!

    What should Apple do differently?!

  7. Paul Grayson says:

    I agree with Tom. Apple should be admired for their marketing nouse. Take a look at this post about Steve’s obsession with secrecy http://www.edibleapple.com/steve-jobs-obsession-with-secrecy-and-the-big-bang/ (nothing to do with me btw – just a good post).

    So what do you think about “touch” user interfaces, hiding the file system etc? That would make an interesting blog post ;-)

  8. Andy Brice says:

    I seem to remember that Microsoft could do little wrong once upon a time. Apple’s fall from grace will come, it is only a matter of when. With their high-handed and authoritarian attitude I think it is going to be sooner rather than later.

  9. Stephen says:

    I love this little fun story which essentially captures what a large number of people are essentially feeling about Apple recently:

    http://www.theonion.com/content/news_briefs/frantic_steve_jobs_stays_up

  10. Nils Davis says:

    Just a quick point, a nit, really, but it’s apropos. VHS won because a single tape could hold a complete feature-length movie. It took two or more Beta tapes to deliver a movie.

    So, knowing that, which was the “best” technology – the one with the awesome specs, or the one that could deliver what people actually wanted to watch?

    Don’t forget that the phrase “Can marketing effort alone make up for a poorly featured V1 product?” was used when the iPod was announced and to some degree when the iPhone was announced. Both have changed and dominated their markets.

    I think your most important phrase was “a simple and awesome product” – and the secret fact is that “the product” is not just the device, but the ecosystem. No matter how good your features, if you don’t have an iTunes, you’re not going to be successful selling your MP3 player. No matter how good your phone’s features, you’re going to get beaten if your competitor has an easy to use, and well-stocked App Store, and a device that’s a pleasure to use.

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