It’s unfortunate that for all the hype, “The Jesus Phone” -- or its latest upgrade -- couldn’t do more to help its creator.
Billed as the device that could almost turn water into wine (at least in app form), Apple’s muted unveiling of its iPhone 4s, and not the much-ballyhooed fifth-generation earlier, was met with a chorus of naysayers that a Jobs-less Apple, (a reference then only to his departure as CEO) might mean bad tidings ahead. Apple, it was said, in a rare fumble, mismanaged the hype express, failing to mitigate and control the Internet rumor mill.
In fact, so under-wowed were supporters after the initial announcement that Apple stock tumbled an iOS-crashing $20 to $355 a share on a day when both the Dow Jones and tech-heavy Nasdaq enjoyed 1.4% and nearly 3% gains, respectively, before a robust recovery stopped the bleeding. Apple ended the trading day down some $2 or 0.6%.
To be sure, now that the technological shock has passed (the human one is just beginning), Apple’s electronic awe is flooding back. Model number aside, the specs are impressive: a new processor seven times faster than the iPhone 4, an 8-megapixel camera, better battery life, and an almost artificially intelligent talking personal assistant called Siri.
Some 48 hours late --, the time it nearly once took to download several DVDs to bulky desktop computers -- and we are stunned by how much has changed. Last Wednesday Steve Jobs, who had been battling pancreatic cancer, died. He was 56. Looking back to Tuesday, it’s very likely some of Apple’s less-than-shiny rollout was due in part to the behind-the-scenes building tragedy. The fact that would-be tech insiders, bloggers, journalists and PR leaders didn’t report any of this -- clearly being kept out of the proverbial loop -- reinforces how shortsighted we may have been in Apple’s negative critique.
Shame on us.
Rather, Apple’s performance over the last few days was message control at its finest. While we don’t know what time Jobs passed away, we do know the announcement came around 7:40 p.m. Eastern time -- some three hours after the close of business and nearly four after the close of the Nasdaq, where Apple’s stock is traded. Whether this was by chance or design, we’ll never know.
Unlike media outlets like CNN that had plastered Jobs’ picture across its homepage as it began its homage, Apple relied on its Jobs-honed, simple, sleek, approach. Apple’s homepage featured a black-and-white portrait of their leader, circular glasses rimming his eyes, a piercing look that jumps off the monitor (or smartphone screen) as he inquisitively pinches the salt and pepper scruff of his beard. Click on the image and visitors are brought to a concise, three-sentence tribute, along with a link to email one’s memories of Steve to the company.
At the end of the day, whether the iPhone 4s is derisively called the “Peter phone” and not the “Jesus phone” doesn’t much matter. In retrospect, CEO Tim Cook’s gray tenor Tuesday and iPhone4’s stuttering launch, was more appropriate than ever, and a clear sign that an Apple without Jobs, whether it wants to or not, must continue updating its message. Like Apple so often successfully does: The public was once again misdirected over what was truly unfolding.
Robert Mead-Green, in his TechRadar blog, rightly points out Cook’s southern drawl, his somewhat muted style, and his desire to share the mic and limelight with fellow Apple executives -- a far cry from the one-man-band hoopla that Jobs was famed for delivering. The point: Managing your message means updating it too. That’s exactly what they’re doing. Kudos to them.
Or try this analogy: Companies -- and ballplayers -- can’t always hit home runs, even when they want to leave the crowd whooping and hollering. Sometimes a well-placed bunt does just as well or better.
Apple’s “bunt” Tuesday and press redirection in no way suggests the tech giant is heading to the Minor League -- with or without Jobs. What’s more likely is that a quieter launch gives the company healthy breathing room from now until next summer (or sooner) when the iPhone 5 arrives.
Looking ahead, while uploading some perspective, Apple has had numerous product hits in the last decades, and few duds -- think Apple’s original “hockey puck” mouse or the $7,500 20th anniversary Macintosh, released in 1997. Thanks to his commitment and total dedication to the company, Jobs’ ideas and inspirations, like spare parts for a classic car, are poised to keep Apple well stocked with his genius and vision for at least the next decade.
Until now, there has been a belief on tech blogs and in PR circles that whatever Apple touches turns to gold (I actually wrote that in another column last week). The iPhone 4s product launch and our metaphysical recall in no way diminish that mystique.
Jobs wasn’t Jesus. Nor are his phones. But the way Jobs and Apple handle its stardom in even the darkest of hours is almost religious.
When it comes to the tragic passing of a great visionary like Steve, and all the surgeries and efforts to save him, it’s too bad there wasn’t an app for that.
If given a little more time, perhaps he would have designed it.