After more than two years on Zoom, Teams, Meet or Webex, would a “return to normal” point the tip of his nose? Life in society is no longer too paralyzed by the Covid, as evidenced by the end of the compulsory mask or the gradual return to face-to-face work, but there are still several sectors strongly impacted by the pandemic. Despite some experimentation (motor shows or the MWC in Barcelona for example), it is rare to see large companies lend themselves to the game of major events. In the world of new technologies in particular, not much is happening. Past conferences from Samsung, Google, Microsoft, and Snap, to name a few, were completely virtual. Most of these groups also refuse to participate in fairs, often for fear of being associated with outbreaks of contamination.
For all these reasons, the WWDC 2022 Apple conference, which took place on Monday, June 6, 2022, had a special flavor. For the first time since 2019, the year of its last real conference, Apple invited several hundred media, dont Numerama, at its California campus. What does a post-Covid keynote look like? We reveal to you behind the scenes of the “hybrid format” proudly put forward by Apple to reconnect with the human without forgetting the pandemic.
A hybrid format almost like before
First of all, let’s start with an important precision on the angle of our article. We are not saying that the Covid is over, quite the contrary. Numerama regularly warns of the gap between political decisions and common health sense. Nobody here has the naivety to think that a return to the world before is desirable.
Now that you have read this essential detail, let’s talk about WWDC. What does Apple call “hybrid format”? To understand it, you have to keep in mind what the brand has been doing for two years. A bit like Nintendo Direct conferences, Apple has replaced its traditional keynotes with ultra-dynamic videos. They take place in multiple locations, have more speakers talking than ever before, and generally benefit from incredible post-production work. In two years, Apple has organized 9. These formats are rather appreciated even if they are pre-recorded and are done without the presence of the media. This deprives the brand’s fans of quick grasp of new products or unspoken information during the event.
With its hybrid format, Apple is trying to merge the best of these two worlds. On June 6, there was no old-fashioned event, with real people on stage. Apple released a 1:49 video perfectly adapted to the codes of its previous virtual events. What has changed, however, is the return of the real world. Hundreds of journalists and guests (developers, consultants, influencers…) watched the keynote together at Apple Park. They were then able to try the new products in preview. Some discussions organized between brand representatives and journalists took place in real life, others virtually, in order to limit meetings and streamline the organization.
Is this hybrid format really new? Let’s be honest, the scales tipped more towards the normal event than the virtual. Either way, it’s interesting to see a brand like Apple reworking the format it helped create so much.
An outdoor event, a great first
To make sure not to transform its campus into a gigantic hotbed of contamination, Apple did not content itself with broadcasting a video. Several rather interesting measures (in the sense that we would not be surprised to see other brands reproduce them) have also made this WWDC 2022 unlike any other high-tech event.
For example, Apple has abandoned its traditional room at the Steve Jobs Theater for… its garden. In recent memory, it doesn’t appear to us that there has ever been an outdoor Apple event. The brand has installed several hundred lounge chairs for its developers, then hundreds of normal chairs behind (even inside its company restaurant, which has the possibility of being able to open onto the outside thanks to giant sliding windows). We can see there, beyond a pure choice of organization, a desire to limit the risks of spreading aerosols between the guests.
Tim Cook and Craig Federighi came by to greet their guests, in person, around 9:50 am, then the projection of the event began on a giant screen around 10 am (4 to 5 minutes ahead of the Internet broadcast). Apple had also prepared several relay screens with subtitling and sign language translation. In short, everyone was in the same place, but outside. A good measure to limit the risk of covid contamination, less for sunburn (fortunately, Apple distributed cream).
By deciding to opt for a virtual event, Apple has also taken the initiative to open its Apple Park to the press for the first time. Numerama had already been able to go to the Steve Jobs Theater, located right next door, but the media had never been able to get inside the ring. Enough to give an even more spectacular dimension to this first post-Covid keynote. Can external events become the norm? Where will they be exceptional?
At the end of the keynote, the media were invited to make their way around Apple Park to the first floor of the Steve Jobs Theater, where they could preview the new MacBook Airs. Wearing a mask was of course compulsory, as everywhere indoors with Apple. Moreover, for anecdote, Apple provided all its guests with “Apple Mask”. The designers of the Californian brand have indeed taken the time to manufacture their own variants of these face protections. Ah, corporate cultures!
Apple executives that we have come across, such as Tim Cook or Greg Jozwiak, have also kept their masks on permanently. The message seems clear to us: Apple does not want to suggest that it has forgotten the covid, despite this big party. The other meetings with brand managers have mostly taken place virtually, in order to limit indoor interactions. In terms of communication, Apple has, as usual, everything under control.
What future for “keynotes”?
Is June 6, 2022 a first step towards the return of international events? We want to say that we hope so, while paradoxically hoping not. If it seems important to us, as journalists, to be able to try products in preview while discussing with the people who designed them, to deliver this information to you, we hope that the Covid will have served as a lesson to the brands that organize events every month. The world after can reconnect with some of the traditions of the world before without reproducing its mistakes. Anyway, that’s what we want.
Anyway, we indeed felt like we were participating in the first post-Covid event in Cupertino. The virtual format of Apple Park is an exciting first step towards a world less dependent on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. That alone is great news. 🍾