We know what that means. After a long morning of exciting developments in hardware and software, Steve Jobs would mildly make as though to wrap up, before idling into: “but there is one more thing.” Not always, but sometimes he’d have saved the best announcement – the one that would resonate in the news and through the months and years – for last.
As happens, history has magnified the flavour of the memory. Having taken his place as CEO, Tim Cook daredn’t utter the phrase until the announcement of the Apple Watch, which five years hence has sold over 30 million times. The cheering audience seemed to consider it an earned usage, as with its reutterance preceding the iPhone X in the first keynote in the Steve Jobs Theatre. “We have great respect for these words, and we don’t use them lightly,” Tim said.
I’d say this evening’s usage is a pretty heavy one. And it should be.
They haven’t said it, but it’s clear this event is about the Mac. What has been said this year: Apple is ready with macOS Big Sur, dubbed version 11 after two decades of nominally incremental upgrades to version 10. It’s a largely user-facing redesign which folds in ideas from iOS and feels like it might belie thoughts about future hardware.
Secondly, the announcement it was time for a fundamental shift from imported Intel processors to Apple’s ARM-based processor designs, called “Apple Silicon,” which have sped the iPhone and iPad to impressive maturity.
I’m no low-level hardware expert, but I’m aware this sort of transition is immensely complex. A major operating system upgrade is complex enough, but in this case the whole operating system must be rewritten, or at least somehow recompiled or translated, not even to mention the countless apps available for it.
In its pattern, the transition resembles the Mac’s similar transition to Intel in 2005. A robust developer transition kit with full emulation, a line of new Intel-based devices in the works, and an operating system which had been secretly compiled in parallel from its dawn. (This is, incidentally, where the word “Mac” made its way into every product that would run it; for example, “MacBook.”)
Why were Steve’s turns of phrase, like “one more thing,” so memorable? I think Steve allowed his sense of taste, everyday humanity, and common sense to undercut the technical concerns which had guided the computer industry. Design choices flowed less from questions like “what’s the logical next step from a programmer’s perspective,” and more from questions like “what would make sense?” or “what would be great?”
That’s the trust he gained with his keynote’s audiences, and with Apple’s customers. While hardware and software evolved, the company wouldn’t be afraid to step way further back to reconsider anything or everything. When Steve explained a product, you could expect it to make sense in a way much else didn’t. Indeed, he’d occasionally invite applause after a stride with a casual “make sense?” In this way, Apple – but initially, the Mac – became the expression of a certain soul or spirit. The Mac was often the computer of artists, of creators, of Robyn and Rand Miller, of Stephen Fry and Douglas Adams. Of me in later grade school, thanks to insightful teachers.
After these announcements tomorrow, with the adoption of a look influenced both by what Apple has learned from its recent adventures and by its history, and with the freedom to part with a longtime partner and grow further into itself, I hope to feel this spirit shines brightly as ever. We’ll see.