Apple’s WWDC Keynote: Mixed Emotions

I’m not sure why I’m feeling this, but something seems to be missing from Apple’s WWDC Keynote from earlier today. You can watch it here. It’s not the products. Apple certainly announced a number of new products to keep people excited and the cash registers ringing. (Question: As we move closer to digital wallets and digital points of sale, will cash registers ringing become an out of date metaphor?) If you’re in the mood for a new mortgage, Apple unveiled its retina equipped Next Generation MacBook Pro that is certainly as drool worthy as it is expensive with a base price of $2200. Apple also updated the rest of the MacBook Pro and the Macbook Air lines and talked quite a bit about iOS 6 and Mountain Lion.

Apple also left a few things off of the table in the two hour presentation. The Mac Pros got a processor bump but no mention during the keynote. Later feed browsing turns up a note that we might see more on the Pro desktop front in 2013. And the 17-inch MacBook Pro apparently is no longer. I’m sure some are thinking the disappointed because there was no new iPhone announced, or no new Apple TV set, or no smaller iPad. But then those folks were crazy for even thinking we’d see those kind of announcements in the first place.

Keep in mind that this is a show for developers as much, if not more so, than it is for consumers hungry to see what’s up next from Apple. So on many levels Apple served both audiences and will certainly dominate the news cycles for days, weeks, and months to come. The teases on iOS 6 are certainly enough to do that. But even with a rash of product news and pseudo-news, I still feel like something is missing.

Apple kicked off the event with Siri doing a stand-up comedy routine. The jokes were basically the lame kind of jokes that kick off any convention gathering. But, I keep coming back to one of the lines from Siri, that was offered as a humorous nod to all of the developers in the audience. ISiri stated “I love you guys. And it’s really hard for me to get emotional because as you can tell, my emotions haven’t been coded yet.”  I think Siri might not be the only one missing some coded emotions. I’m feeling like Apple might be as well.

Don’t get me wrong. There was plenty of the good old Apple emotional stuff at the beginning of the keynote. In fact after talking about developers using Apple hardware and software to create a better world and saying that is more important than all of the big numbers Apple keeps racking up, there was a moment when CEO Tim Cook takes a pause, brings his hands together in front of his face, and appears to get quite emotional about what developers have helped Apple achieve. Following that he introduced a very emotional video about how Apple’s products have provided new avenues and some new hope for those who are handicapped, a teacher in Mumbai, India, and other emotional stories. There was even an emotional appeal at the end of the keynote for developers to keep doing the good work that they are doing as Tim Cook intoned that the products Apple makes combined with the Apps that developers create can fundamentally change the world.

Heady stuff. I honestly believe after watching the keynote that Tim Cook believes the stuff he’s selling. But those emotional bookends were filled with product descriptions that geeks all over the world wanted to hear about. And honestly, that middle is where I’m searching for the through line that makes the emotional appeal hang together.

Call me a sucker, but I’ve bought into Apple’s emotional appeal in the past. The intersection of technology and the arts resonates deep inside of me. Based on the numbers, I’m not alone in that. But in retrospect. after watching the keynote I realized that as I listened to the product descriptions, as exciting as some of them were, that they felt more like a long check list of accomplishments or things to sell rather than a narrative.

In short, while I think Apple is offering some exciting new products in addition to some well timed upgrades, the story that list tells is not as compelling to me as it has been in the past. For those who suspect these feelings may be about Tim Cook vs. Steve Jobs, that’s not where I’m going. I think Cook handled his part in the day very well and I’m as impressed by what I believe to be glimpses into his humanity in a few of brief moments as I was ever impressed by Jobs’ showmanship.

Where I believe this is going riffs off of something I’ve been feeling for quite some time. As important and as sexy as the hardware is, we’re all having a tough time spinning the innovations we’re seeing of late in to something really great. Retina display? Sure, its a nice innovation. To my eye though, it isn’t the game changer that so many make it out to be. New form factor? Sexy, sure. But my thought after the new MacBook Pro was introduced was that I needed to see it at an Apple Store before I would get that fired up about it.

And then there’s the software. We’ve already heard quite a bit about Mountain Lion and the changes it will bring. iCloud is the big promise. And I have to say, it better live up to that promise with if it doesn’t want to become the fog bank that obscures Apple’s vision of the future. Nothing I’ve seen tells me Apple has cracked that yet. And what about iOS 6? I’m looking forward to hearing more about this mobile operating system update as we wait for its release. But aside from creating its own Maps biz and moving into the wallet space and point of sale space, there’s not much Apple is telling the world about iOS 6 that tells me it is will be anything more than an incremental update that’s a few rungs up the ladder from bug fixes and security updates. Oh, and then there’s Siri. Sports scores, restaurant and event bookings, and a few other things that Siri could do before Apple bought the technology. Launching Apps looks cool, but really shouldn’t that have been there from the get go. You can certainly make the argument that Apple is going after Google with Maps and Siri and some partnerships with companies like Yelp. But that’s an old story.

Don’t get me wrong. Apple continues to impress. But the story I’m hearing isn’t as compelling as it used to be. The context of the narrative isn’t what’s lacking, because that is so obviously there in so many ways. What I believe we are seeing is the tacit admission that Apple, like just about everyone else in the biz is marking time a bit, hoping consumers won’t notice and that developers will continue to elevate our expectations.