As Android enthusiasts, many of us have become accustomed to watching Apple announcements that bring in new products and features that look awfully similar to things Google did first—not to say Android hasn’t borrowed a few things too. But in recent years, there seems to be another thing Apple has borrowed from Google—is willingness to have fun.
Think back about five years, when we all made a game of trying to guess the next dessert name for Android, and the unveiling of each new Android statue was an event all its own. It was ten years ago that a team of skydivers dropped out of a plane over San Francisco, kicking off a series of stunts to deliver a Google Glass to the I/O stage. Those were the weird, over-the-top things that inspired much of the fandom Google enjoys today.
There’s no lack of fans who lament the loss of whimsy that used to be part of Google’s distinct personality and culture. That’s hardly a new revelation; many of us felt things had changed even before Google announced Android’s dessert names were going to be canceled. While that decision seems to have been reversed, the statues are now just version numbers instead of the pieces of art people used to pose next to, and none have even taken physical form since Android 10.
For the last few years, Google’s keynotes have been more organized, practiced, and succinct—and you’ll hear no complaints from me about that, but they feel too much like business as usual. There are no more stunts or quirky live demos, no unveilings or events just for the fun of it. Even when there are great opportunities for comedy, like the introduction of LaMDA that gave us conversations with the planet Pluto and a paper airplane, they are delivered with. Although, that was followed shortly after by an awkward segment with Michael Peña exploring the new quantum computing campus. It landed about as well as a high school educational video, but it does show Google hasn’t given up trying to be fun.
This brings us back around to Apple. Most people associate the company with its perfectly crafted lifestyle commercials featuring celebrities and deeply energizing music tracks from recently discovered bands. But that’s not quite the persona we see during on-stage product announcements— kay, the music is still there. For years, Steve Jobs ran the show with a likable and relatable personality, sometimes cracking the occasional joke, but generally holding court in a friendly and low-key style. That tone has persisted through the years despite shifting to a faster and more deliberate style; but after watching WWDC 2022, more than ever before, I see people talking about how much funnier Apple has become.
Make no mistake, this week’s keynote presentation was nothing like a Marvel movie with a series of perfectly spaced jokes, but it had its fair share of quips, corny transitions, and goofy acting. It doesn’t matter whether you were laughing at Apple or with Apple, that two-hour presentation probably got you to crack a smile.
In truth, this isn’t that out of the ordinary for Apple’s keynotes, and particularly for Craig Federighi, Senior Vice President of Software Engineering. Federighi has become the chief showman during these events. Despite a mildly awkward first visit to the stage, he has gone on to rickroll the audience, acquire the nickname Hair Force One, take some clever jabs at the competition using Siri, and committ to a couple of minutes of self-aware jokes about the bloated dinosaur that was iTunes.
Apple is also leaning into acted segments and goofy side stories to change up the experience, which makes sense after switching to pre-recorded keynotes in response to the pandemic. The WWDC 2021 opening drew mixed reactions, perhaps because it was a confusing mashup of a musical number, tech thriller scene, and Tim Cook and Craig Federighi lookalikes posing as rockers. It wouldn’t be the first over-the-top stunt to invite some eye rolls, but there was no harm in it, and plenty of viewers enjoyed it. The same can be said about the frequent scene transitions that have played prominently in the last two years of the show, some of which have become elaborate to the point of absurdity. It took a little time to get used to these gimmicks, but I’m starting to like them.
Much like Google’s once playful history with Android codenames, Apple has been poking fun at its macOS names for the last decade. It began with a simple Sea Lion joke in 2013, but the shift to naming versions based on California landmarks also introduced an evolving comical storyline about Apple’s marketing team and their traveling VW minibus in 2014 and 2015. Oh yeah, and there were drug references. It toned down a little in 2016, but the announcement of High Sierra in 2017 took full advantage of the opportunity to make stoner jokes. The Mojave announcement in 2018 was also fairly low-key, and there were no jokes about Catalina in 2019; though there were plenty of cracks about iTunes moments later. And then in 2020, 2021, and now in 2022, the epic tales of the drug-fueled marketing team have only grown more sensational. And Craig isn’t the only person to play with the name, several others have turned out wisecracks in one way or another, including Josh Shaffer in his SwiftUI demo that calls for Flying Squirrel to become the future of macOS.
“That brings us to the latest exploits of Apple’s crack product marketing team. They’ve been absolutely riding high since their naming coup on M1 and M2, and needless to say, they were exhausted. But after their requisite three-month rejuvenation retreat in Monterey, with their chakras now in complete alignment, the team once again piled into their macOS naming microbus and wove their way down Highway 1. Chasing the vibrant display of colorful California wildflowers, they finally came to rest where stunning surf meets lush alluvial plains, in beautiful Ventura.” — Craig Federighi, WWDC 2022
Apple is having fun with its keynotes, just like Google used to. In turn, it’s more fun to watch WWDC than it is to watch I/O. But we also see it in the day-to-day antics, or lack thereof. Remember when Google used to bury messages in websites and APKs for people to find? And let’s not forget the great easter eggs that turned up in almost every app. Google I/O has even hosted comedy shows in the past, and never shied away from putting Chet Haase and Romain Guy together, so we know the art form has not been lost.
There’s nothing wrong with being serious, and many corporate clients surely prefer to work with a slightly stodgier version of Google. However, if Apple can get away with on-stage jokes about getting high, there must be some room to be a little more playful during announcements, particularly from a group literally named Google Play.
There’s a lot to be said for loosening up a bit, especially as world events have everybody more on edge than usual. Apple might not have landed every joke or chosen the best gimmicks, but the company has found ways to inject more humor into its events, and people appreciate it. I suppose what I’m saying is Apple’s efforts to amuse the audience are reminding us that it’s healthy to laugh, and most of us miss when Google was more inclined to laugh with us.
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