“Much better,” one Apple executive said as her body dissolved, her head ballooned and she shrank into an auditorium full of similarly disembodied memoji cheering her CEO.
That was the ending of Monday’s keynote at Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference, WWDC 2021. But it was also the underlying message throughout the preceding two hours. Doesn’t matter what product we’re talking about — Apple Maps, AirPods, HomePod — it’s just better: Better than it was before, better than the unnamed competition, better if you use it in conjunction with all the other better Apple products.
But does anyone really believe that in all cases? Or is Apple hurting its brand by blindly insisting on the betterness of everything while ignoring the reality of how we actually use tech? Many of the features that Tim Cook’s exec team gushed over during this performance, and the many COVID-era ads just like it, seem like they’re destined for the dustbin of stuff that looks cool in an Apple store but go unused in regular life. (When was the last time you actually sent a memoji?)
In Apple’s perfect world, for example, people will use FaceTime to watch shows with friends on their Apple TV. But this apparently requires holding your iPhone at arm’s length for the duration of a show so they can catch all your reactions. Better go grab those dumbbells now before the feature launches with all the OS updates this fall; FaceTime TV is not for the weak.
In Apple’s perfect world, Safari is a flawless internet browser, made even better by new tab grouping features and a UI that turns the same color as the web page you’re on. Never mind that here in the real world, many of us have to use other browsers because a million workaday websites just don’t work with Safari. I can’t use my online banking or content management system on it, for example. Still Apple continues to try to woo me with Safari updates, in keynote after keynote, without addressing these underlying issues.
In Apple’s perfect world, you will buy grandma an Apple Watch. She will share her data with you, and you can send her a panicky text message when you see that her resting heart rate has risen in the last hour or her walking gait seems a bit off (because Apple wants to make your gait perfect now). I’m sure she’ll be fine with that, and totally remember she agreed to such intimate surveillance!
Perhaps she’s also the grandma seen in the Apple Home segment, who likes sci-fi and knows how to set the mood lighting for dinner. I would like to meet this grandma, presuming she hasn’t been uplifted into the memoji cloud already.
Meanwhile, Apple is continually improving its ability to find lost AirPods via the FindMy app. Some might say that Apple should perhaps make it less likely that AirPods will fall out of your ear in the first place, perhaps by adding Bose-style wingtips. But in Apple’s perfect world, all our ears are molded to fit AirPods perfectly.
Even hardcore Apple users like me (typing this on an iMac with an Apple Watch on my wrist and an iPhone 11 in my pocket) have moments where we peace out of the keynote. I’m a Google Maps user, so the long segment on Apple Maps always leaves me cold. Why switch? As near as I can tell from the WWDC keynote, it’s because the 3D driving maps are pretty and contain trees. Hey, I love trees, but why do you need them on a driving map?
Same goes for any mention of Apple Music (I’m a Spotify user) or HomePod (we’re an Alexa household). Great to know you’ve improved these products, Apple, but what advantages do they confer over the competition? Apple’s presenters appear incapable of mentioning a company by name unless it’s a partner. When one said that HomePod can play Apple Music “and other popular music services,” I barked at the screen: Just say it! Say the S-word!
But no. Apple executives live in a perfect world where non-Apple products aren’t really a thing. It’s also a place where we have no problem storing our driver’s licenses in our Apple Wallet despite the privacy concerns. Where we make slideshows in Photos and choose jaunty, whistling background music to go with our perfect family weekend rock-climbing adventure. Where we buy an iPad and an iMac and a Macbook, just to use the new feature where you can make a cursor go across all three screens. Where we have the patience to correct Siri’s mistaken dictation on Apple Watch by scribbling the right word letter by letter. Where our Watch’s home screen is a portrait of a puppy named Fondue.
Is Apple’s world better? Of course it is. But unless we all start dissolving into disembodied memoji, that better world starts to look further and further away from the real one with every keynote.