Apple’s Magic Is In The Turn, Not The Prestige

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The opening dialogue of Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film, The Prestige:

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course…it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.

This is what was on my mind following today’s Apple event. It’s essentially the story of the iPhone.

Apple took something ordinary, a phone, did some extraordinary things to it, and then made it re-appear in grandiose fashion. It’s a great trick. It’s so good, in fact, that I think it’s fair to call it true magic.

The problem, if you want to call it that, is that Apple has now been doing this trick since 2007. Granted, they have other solid tricks too (they are far from the one-trick-pony claims that several of their competitors face). But the iPhone is the best trick in their bag. And in the last few years, some people have gotten sick of seeing it.

But it’s important to remember that just because you’ve seen a show before, it doesn’t actually make it any less magical. It’s a perception issue.

Yes, that’s also Apple’s problem — if they wish to entertain. But the reality is that the entertainment value of these events is just icing on the cake. It also probably doesn’t help the current Apple regime that Steve Jobs was especially good at pulling off “The Prestige” part. But the true core of the company with regard to the iPhone has always been about “The Turn.” And I think that was more clear than ever today.

Look at the main video being displayed on Apple’s homepage. It’s several Apple executives talking about just what went into pulling off turning the ordinary smartphone into something extraordinary. Yes, again.

To some, this repetition is now boring. But I think Apple looks at it the opposite way: they’re perfecting their trick.

Look at the mobile landscape right now. There are two companies that are making any money in smartphones: Apple and Samsung. Or, put another way: Apple and the company Apple just won a billion dollar-plus judgement against for copying their smartphone designs. So while some may find Apple’s trick old hat now, no one else has figured out how to pull it off — except for the company doing a mediocre copy of the trick. I’d argue it’s because everyone is focusing on The Pledge and The Prestige, but Apple is the only one focusing on The Turn.

They’re the only ones photographing their assembly process with 29 megapixel cameras to ensure that a machine picks the exact inlet from 725 unique cuts. They’re the only ones who spend three years working on earphones. They’re the only ones who would go out of their way to try to re-design a device to look and act similar even though the bulk of it has largely changed.

That’s the thing — when people say they’re disappointed about the new iPhone, what they’re really saying is that they’re disappointed it doesn’t look that much different from previous version(s). But again, not only is that true, Apple went out of their way to make sure that was the case. Just listen to Jony Ive in the very beginning of the video:

When you think about your iPhone, it’s probably the object that you use most in your life. It’s the product that you have with you all the time. With this unique relationship that people have with their iPhone, we take changing it really seriously. We don’t just want to make a new phone. We want to make a much better phone.

Apple is not and will not change things just for the sake of change. And while some may now be clamoring for this change, the paradox is that if Apple did make some big changes, many of the same people would bitch and moan about them. Apple is smart enough to know that in this case, most people don’t really want change, they just think that they do because that’s the easiest way to perceive value: visual newness.

Apple’s focus remains on The Turn, the process by which they make the ordinary extraordinary. But even with a masterful Prestige, it’s hard to convey that commitment. That is, until you walk into an Apple Store and pick up the product.

While it lacks the pomp and circumstance of a Prestige on stage at some big event, this interaction is much more intimate, and as such, much more powerful. You may not perceive it directly, but the care and craft of The Turn percolates through your hands and eyes. Within minutes or even seconds, you just know this is something different. Something far beyond what others are doing with their false magic. You want this. You need this.

That’s why Apple is now the most valuable company in the world. And that’s why you will buy an iPhone 5. And an iPhone 6. And beyond. You’re upset about The Prestige, or the lack thereof. But it’s all about The Turn.