Great Expectations Of An Apple Event

charles_dickens_great_expectations_abridged_cassettesIt’s the night before an Apple event. You know, the time just before the Apple Store being down sends ripples of excitement through the blogosphere. Now’s a time for one last reflection on the finalized rumors laid out in the past several hours. But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to talk about expectations.

I’ve been to all but one of the past two years worth of Apple events. And for the several years prior to that, I followed along online on sites like this one, with the rest of you. These past two years there has been a noticeable trend immediately following these events: Disappointment.

Now, the degree of disappointment varies, but there always seems to be an overall feeling that people are walking away unsatisfied in some way. The reason for this is obvious: Apple is a victim of its own success. It has spent so many years doing large keynote addresses with “one more thing…” that when it has more recently tried to scale back its events a bit, the public was left expecting the same string of “wows.”

And of course, Steve Jobs has taken a major step back recently from these events due to his health situation, but even before he left, the “wows” seemed to be not as plentiful as in years past. I can’t even recall the last time there was a true “one more thing…” (maybe the Apple TV, then called iTV?) and the last major new product that seemed to draw out the “wows” was probably the MacBook Air — which was unveiled in January 2008.

But I’m not sure I would even count that as a truly “wow” moment. The talk of that product leaked out in the days leading up to the event, and if anything, the “wows” seemed to come from Jobs’ brilliant display of showmanship by bringing the machine out on the stage in a manilla envelope.

And the year before that, we of course had the iPhone. That was really a “wow” moment, but again, there had been no shortage of talk about it, leading up to the unveiling. No matter which way you slice it, that takes away some of the “wow” effect.

And let’s remember, both of those two previous examples were during the keynote of Macworld, a large event. Apple is no longer participating in Macworld, and instead is now focusing more on these smaller events, with WWDC likely to be its largest of the year. The biggest cheers at this year’s WWDC were probably for the price of Snow Leopard (a product Apple itself had already previewed the previous year), and the new features of the iPhone (which Apple previously had unveiled at its iPhone 3.0 event). The new iPhone 3GS was the main event, but everyone already knew basically everything about it beforehand.

The biggest surprise may have been the $99 iPhone. Which again, wasn’t all that surprising.

My point is that in this day and age, it’s simply very, very hard for any company, even Apple, to keep new products a secret. And because the blogosphere has grown to the size that it now is, the news of new products penetrate the mass media. Sure, some product rumors are bogus. But anyone who follows this stuff closely enough can pretty accurately guess what is coming when Apple takes the stage.

Let’s try it. What are we going to see tomorrow? iPods with cameras, iPod storage increases with price cuts, iTunes 9, and the “Cocktail” albums. There are various sources on all of that stuff (with iTunes 9 probably being the shakiest), and all seem like sure bets, and seem like exactly what we’re going to get.

But still, whether we admit it or not, we’re all holding out hope for that “one more thing…” Some want it to be the tablet, some want new Apple TVs, some want products we’ve never even heard of. The likelihood of any of those? Very, very small.

I’m no different. I write about my desire for The Beatles on iTunes, and dreams of iTunes going to the cloud. Neither are going to happen tomorrow, but I still hold out hope. And that, in turn, leads to some level of disappointment when the show wraps.

And I’m fine with working myself up to be let down, because I know that most of these things we dream about will be a reality in the future (the tablet, The Beatles on iTunes). And I enjoy thinking about the future. But I know that many of you work yourselves up with these huge expectations and then are pissed off when Apple doesn’t meet them. “New iPods, that’s all?”

Apple still certainly has the ability to surprise, because Steve Jobs is known to make product unveiling decisions at the last second. But in recent years, we’ve known about all of the products beforehand, even the ones he chooses not to go with. That’s hardly Apple’s fault, they’d have to develop a product with absolutely no outside help in order to truly keep something on lockdown these days. And considering that not even Apple has the capacity to make every single thing it needs internally, that’s going to be very hard to achieve ever again.

The bigger picture is that by continually waiting to be surprised at these events, we often overlook some of the subtle and interesting things Apple is doing with its products. That will probably be the case again tomorrow. I’m going to try to remember that, but I probably won’t be able to get some damn Beatles song out of my head.