I’ve been disappointed in almost all the launch events I’ve seen since we mainly moved to virtual events. Most aren’t that different than in-person events where the speaker(s) get up on stage and pontificate.
Some use a lot of visual aids that help, but mostly, they showcase the same limitations as in-person events, so they struggle to hold an online audience, which can more easily be distracted than an in-person audience.
I think last week’s Apple “Wonderlust” launch event was an example of how virtual launches should be done, and it was brilliantly executed. I’m not and likely never will be an Apple fan, but I like to call things as I see them. Last week’s launch presentation raised the bar for how to execute events like this.
Let’s talk about that this week, and we’ll close with my Product of the Week, which must be either the new Apple Watch Ultra 2 or the new iPhone 15 Pro. I think the watch is the bigger deal, though, so it will be my Product of the Week.
How Typical Product Launches Are Done
I’m an ex-actor and ex-marketing director, so I used to teach a class on how to do presentations. Then, as now, it often seems that launch presentations are designed for the presenters as a task they are required to do. Instead of being selected for their presentation skills, presenters are chosen because of their titles.
Presentations are generally created just short of the event and changed up to minutes beforehand so that people not trained on teleprompters get up on stage and showcase how little they rehearsed. Some rehearse adequately and do well, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule.
In addition, the content of most tech presentations is on the technology in the product, with little focus on what it might mean to a buyer or user. Even if the technology is visual in nature, the presenter is likely to show how the technology works rather than what it does. People in the audience who generally don’t want to understand the technology are left bored and not overly excited about the product.
Product launches should be focused on getting people excited about and wanting to purchase the product. Virtual launches should be dynamic, feature fewer talking heads, and showcase instead what the product does in a way that makes you want it.
Too often, after a typical launch event, people just aren’t that interested in what was launched. It’s as if the presenters thought the goal was to live through being on stage, and the audience’s goal was to survive the experience.
But that was not the case with last week’s Apple launch event. It had a non-Apple fan like me lusting after the iPhone 15 Pro and the Apple Watch Ultra 2.
Wonderlust Launch Event
The event kicked off with a beautiful drone sequence of Apple’s headquarters building, which, admittedly, is one of the most awesome buildings in the world. They then talked about some of the products that were doing well that weren’t being launched, like the 15-inch MacBook Air that Tom’s Hardware said was the best laptop in the market, and the coming Apple Vision Pro (this last became important later) which has done what Meta has been failing at of late by driving interest to the VR segment.
Watch Series 9
The first announcement was the Apple Watch Series 9 (pictured above), which is an impressive product. The Apple Watch has long led the smartwatch segment, but competitors have been catching up. The watch I wear, the TicWatch Pro 5, is superior to the Apple Watch Series 8 in many ways. However, the Apple Watch Series 9 again moves into the lead with improved screen brightness, battery life, functionality, and sustainability.
One terrific feature on the new watch is called “double tap,” where you can just tap your fingers together to accomplish a single action like answering a call or hanging up. In addition, it has an improved find-my-phone feature.
Commitment to Sustainability
Sustainability is important here because Apple inserted its sustainability pitch in the middle of the Apple Watch pitch. This approach is interesting because buyers say sustainability is important to them, but they often tune out sustainability pitches. Most of the ones I’ve seen, even from Apple, have been more smoke than substance. This one wasn’t.
Apple made commitments to goals in 2030 that aligned with other firms’ goals for 2040 and 2050 and spoke about these commitments in a scripted event with an actor playing Mother Nature. While this may sound hokey, it was well-executed and fun to watch. To me — and sometimes these kinds of presentations do depend on the audience — this was very well done.
Watch Ultra 2
Apple then moved to the Apple Watch Ultra 2 using another video-rich piece that moved from location to location to hold the audience’s attention and spoke about how the watch could change your life.
This watch made by a competitor could get an Apple fan to move to another brand. It was that good, in my opinion, featuring a 3000-nit display (which is in line with displays used by the military for outdoor use), 36 to 72 hours of battery life, red light for night viewing (so it doesn’t destroy your night vision), and made with substantial recycled content.
The price is $799, which isn’t cheap, but it’s decent value for what the watch does and how much better it is than anything else out there.
Apple then showcased the iPhone 15, a nice improvement over the iPhone 14.
Improvements to the glass case make the 15 less likely you’ll drop it, and it features a 48-megapixel camera and improved audio quality.
The satellite capabilities have been expanded, now allowing people to call for help outside of cell coverage or to AAA for roadside assistance. I consider this a killer feature, and if I had kids, they’d have this phone.
Another kid-friendly feature is finding someone else. It’s like a GPS tracker guiding you to the person you want to find, like a kid lost at Disneyland. I was once that kid, so I know how incredibly useful that would be.
Apple even fixed the inductive charging, so the phone will now charge through an approved case (emphasis on the “approved,” but that is better than not at all). One of my favorite features is the new programable button. Several years ago, I was nearly killed by some kids and complained that part of the reason I was at risk was that a similar feature in the old Windows Phone had been discontinued. This button, tied to the camera, could get you that critical shot needed to capture a criminal, or in my case, criminals. So, for me, this is another must-have feature.
iPhone 15 Pro
It’s the iPhone 15 Pro that I consider to be a truly iPhone killer breakthrough.
Now, why do I say iPhone killer? Because phone makers must overcome the phones people already have. Apple’s biggest problem isn’t a competitor like Samsung; it is Apple products already in use because if the new phone doesn’t excite people enough to get rid of their old phone, then Apple doesn’t get a sale.
Assuming someone has the money — and that’s a big assumption this year – if the iPhone 15 Pro was created by Samsung instead of Apple, it is good enough to get an Apple user to switch, let alone upgrade from their iPhone 14. It’s that good.
The camera is what makes the phone truly stand out, with a 120mm lens capability that is amazing, a titanium case (partially recycled), and gaming performance never seen before on an iPhone – and it can create 3D videos that you can experience as if you were there when using the coming Apple Vision Pro I mentioned earlier.
Wrapping Up: Extra Secret Sauce Qualcomm
One of the things Apple didn’t mention is that it’s back to using a Qualcomm modem and radio. This partnership created the original iPhone, and Qualcomm makes the best wireless device communication technology in the industry, so much of the connectivity improvements are tied to Qualcomm, which assures they will both work and be relatively problem-free. That is great news for users.
This Apple launch was arguably the best launch event I’ve ever seen. It was comparable to the brilliant work that Nvidia does at its events but with a greater focus on user benefits than technology. It was visually engaging, very well executed (to TV levels of quality), and set a very high bar that others should strive toward.
The event also showcased why Apple is so difficult to compete with. No other company is in its league when it’s on its game like it was last week. Now, if Apple would just move away from its “lock-in” strategy to remove migration barriers, it would be able to grow its installed base. Despite that, this product launch should grow Apple’s market share.
However, there’s one big problem I should mention that isn’t Apple’s fault.
Reports indicate that much of the consumer market has run up unprecedented debt and is reaching debt limits. No matter how good a new iPhone is, it’s still a luxury item. When you’re having trouble paying bills and putting food on the table, luxury items don’t sell well.
Apple has done an impressive job creating products people will want to buy, but if consumers don’t have the money, Apple won’t get the sales bump, and Apple can’t fix this problem. I expect Apple will do better than most, but it could still be a down quarter for Apple and the tech segment in general.
Apple Watch Ultra 2
I’m a big fan of smartwatches. One of the biggest disappointments in Apple’s execution is that it didn’t continue Steve Jobs’ policy of allowing devices like the iPod to work with other platforms (in that case, Windows, in this case, Android), which limits its base and my ability to use the watch.
While I’ve noted that other watches have been catching up, this latest Apple Watch Ultra 2 is so far ahead of everything else that I doubt anyone near term will be able to touch it competitively. The 3000-nit display alone is a game changer, but the double-tap interface is even more compelling.
The only features I think the watch lacks are a camera for emergencies and satellite connectivity so you can still call for help if someone has taken your phone from you or you have forgotten or lost your phone during a crisis. I expect at least one of these features will appear in future Apple Watches. If Tim Cook had kids, I’d bet at least the satellite feature would be in this latest watch.
The titanium case and up to 72-hour battery charge are very impressive features, and the improvements to exercise monitoring make it a must-have upgrade for those who use the Apple Watch to keep fit. This watch again establishes Apple as the leader in this segment and sets the bar for everyone else.
Sadly, the phone starts at around $799, making it an expensive gift many will want this holiday season. Still, it’s my Product of the Week.