Direct Your Attention: At the October Apple Event, come for the tech, stay for the cinematic spectacle

By Owen Mason-Hill

PIA CONTRERAS BALBUENA

There are very few events I watch live. I’ll tune in to the Super Bowl on occasion, if only to watch what millions of dollars look like in 30-second commercial form. I’ll watch the presidential debates every four years. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll stay up late enough at my grandparents’ house — the last residence I know to still have a cable subscription — to catch the early moments of SNL. Yet every few months, when Apple hosts one of their world-renowned events, I find myself eagerly attending the virtual affair, counting down the seconds until the start.

Of the principles Apple is conscious of when creating a product intended for home users, none is more important than ease of use. Approachability is crucial for Apple, not only in its products but also in its marketing. I am by no means a tech person. I couldn’t tell you how many megapixels my phone’s camera has — or even what a megapixel is. Nor could I tell you how my earbuds connect to my iPhone, except for the possibility of magic being real. And still I sat down on Oct. 13 for over an hour to listen to Apple executives talk about an array of shiny new toys for consumers to play with.

Despite my lack of knowledge and marked non-expertise, I was compelled by the event — though more as a fan of filmmaking than of tech. Apple has long since been known for its brilliant events. While Covid-19 undoubtedly rocked event plans that had been thought of years in advance, Apple only seemed to flourish in this new technological era. The event was live-streamed on YouTube to millions of concurrent viewers and, as of the publication of this article, has over 53 million views.

The event started off in the Steve Jobs Theatre in Apple Park, where CEO Tim Cook stood beside the brand new HomePod Mini and detailed the event’s proceedings. After a brief montage showing off the new and exciting features of Apple’s smart speaker — now in a smaller build — the camera slowly crept toward the HomePod and peered around the corner in the first of many brilliant cinematographic choices. Just behind the miniature speaker laid an even smaller diorama of a living room, and as the camera moved in closer, Apple’s Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing Bob Borchers stepped out from behind the fireplace and began to introduce the HomePod in more detail.

Apple cuts down on the boredom associated with what is essentially a massive Powerpoint presentation by providing little slices of newness throughout the event to keep its audience attentive.

Less than four minutes into the event and Apple had absolutely floored me with an elegant camera move wherein a miniature diorama filled the shot to become a full-sized set. This is where the fun began. Displayed beside Borchers as he spoke were key bullet points from his speech, presented in the easily legible Helvetica font in a plain white color. Everything about this presentation screamed ease of use. Suddenly, as Borchers introduced a new speaker, the camera pulled back to reveal a new kitchen set adjacent to the previous one, separated only by a false wall. While Acoustics Engineering Manager Dave Wilkes Jr. prattled on about the glorious sound of the new speaker, the camera seemed to peer behind Wilkes and moved inward toward the new kitchen set. As the camera panned forward, an actor walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge, instantly filling the space with life and intimacy. Apple wanted to make viewers feel how easily the new HomePod could be integrated into daily life so they showed it — brilliantly, I might add. After all was said and done for the HomePod, the camera pulled back once again to reveal a six-section, two-story set complete with a kitchen, garage, living room and bedroom built specifically for this event.

Throughout the remainder of the event, Apple introduced the new iPhone 12 lineup with presentations from a wide swath of Apple employees, each in a different location. The beauty of this portion was that the presentation was focused on just one product, but each new feature was given its own speaker and set. Vice President of Policy and Social Initiatives Lisa Jackson discussed Apple’s committal to carbon neutrality while literally standing on the solar panels of Apple Park’s roof, while Camera Software Engineering Senior Manager Alok Deshpande talked about the iPhone 12 Pro’s new incredible camera from within Apple’s own photography lab, complete with lighting kits and massive photographs presumably taken on the new iPhone.

Apple cuts down on the boredom associated with what is essentially a massive Powerpoint presentation by providing little slices of newness throughout the event to keep its audience attentive.

In the event’s most wonderful stroke of presentational surprise, Vice President of iPhone Product Marketing Kaiann Drance opened up a briefcase containing the littlest big surprise of the night. “To add to all these big announcements” said Drance, “we also wanted to do something a little different.” As she walked offscreen left, the iconic James Bond theme began to play overhead. Drance proceeded to dramatically open up a steel briefcase only to reveal another briefcase, which upon its opening revealed a third briefcase. Laid within that third briefcase was the new iPhone 12 Mini.

Now, did Apple have to take up 30 seconds of my life opening three briefcases only to reveal an iPhone less than an inch smaller than its peers? No. But was it fantastic to watch? Yes. Obviously yes.

To be an Apple fan is to be a fan of the dramatic. It’s the little moments treated with overwhelming attention and deliberateness that makes these events so compelling as entertainment. I would recommend watching this event for the sheer filmmaking alone; it possesses a greater understanding of the craft than many movies I see in theaters. Apple isn’t so much selling technology as it is a way of life: a lifestyle that turns little moments into memorable ones. I’m all in on Apple — partly for how incredibly functional their phones and computers are, but mostly I’m in for the lifestyle it promotes. Sure a phone can just be a phone, but why can’t it be something more?