The Evolution of Apple Events

Skift Take

The Opening

Apple is a household name and events are a massive part of their marketing strategy. Here are some key events they have hosted and how their approach has developed over the years, culminating in today’s special event.

When Apple launch a new product (or host an event) they generate a buzz and everyone knows about it, partly due to their unique approach. By often keeping the whole purpose of the event a secret, Apple create large amounts of speculation and social media chatter to help market their brand, as well as the event, and let the public (and the media) do everything else for them.

That being said, Apple knows its audience and leaves people coming back for more by introducing the latest products, software and releases at their consistent 3 (ish) events per year. They host the WWDC and two special events to showcase the best of their products and software while giving a great experience that screams exclusivity. Consistency seems to be key for Apple but their ability to adapt for each audience puts them on top, for example they handle the developer conferences very differently than other special events. The follow-up after events is also excellent and they release podcasts, keynote videos and other streaming options on their own platforms.

It’s no secret that Steve Jobs turned things around for Apple when he was re-hired in 1996 and this in part was the way he approached the brand as a whole and presented it to the public. A lot of things have changed since he was running things, but the question is by how much? And is it for the better?

Let’s delve deeper into what makes Apple such a marketing machine by breaking down the history of some of the major Apple events and how they compare to the latest launch, which has just happened.

Macworld Expo (2007)

This conference, although not hosted by Apple is important because it is where the Apple reign began. Here is where Steve Jobs announced that it would now only be known as Apple Inc. (previously Apple Computer Inc.) as they adopted other devices (specifically the iPhone) to split their focus from solely computers.

With limited resources in 2007 and a minimum emphasis on social media the event itself was very minimal (some would say like Steve jobs). Using a projector screen and taking a traditional presentation, Jobs was able to capture the audience for the introduction of “The World’s Thinnest Notebook” (the MacBook Air). Using competitive figures, diagrams and displays that left the attendees gasping at the visuals Jobs proved that the basics could still get the job done!

WWDC (2008)

This event was bustling and people were queuing from 8am onwards for the 9:30am start. This was the first sell out conference they hosted with all 5,200 tickets being sold. As the start of the iPhone generation, this conference focused heavily on new software and hardware updates and Apple helped to break things up by bringing guests on stage, such as then software engineer Scott Forstall, which gave a more in depth discussion on the tech. Jobs was his usual charming self discussing the large interest they had in their new development opportunities with over 25,000 applicants and even pulled out a testimonial video of happy customers and feedback which included the Army and created a sense of patriotism. This was probably one of the most successful of the developer conferences that Jobs hosted.

WWDC (2010)

After taking the previous year off with declining health, Jobs was back and full of energy introducing the iPhone 4 and FaceTime using his traditional minimalistic approach but inspiring thousands. Showing his passion for the company and its technology, Jobs referred to new products as his baby and it was this approach to the event that made attendees fall in love with the products too. The iPhone 4 subsequently has been one of the most popular models and after urging attendees to go out and purchase them, Jobs managed to show the human side of Apple rather than just the marketing giant.

WWDC (2012)

During this developer conference they banned social media and prevented photography or video which prompted conversation as to how exclusive it had become and encouraged lots of speculation. This created more of a buzz surrounding the event and definitely increased the demand of who wanted to be there. Those who attended were treated to an array of new software and hardware perhaps to try to compensate for the absence of Steve Jobs, who had passed away months before.

During this event the presence of Jobs was definitely missed. New CEO, Tim Cook, gave his first keynote which was a little flat and missing the engaging tone that Jobs used to draw you in. Apple appeared to try to fill every possible moment with proving that Apple could survive without Steve Jobs and would not fall back into the hole that it did in 1996.

WWDC (2013)

Apple stepped up its game for the WWDC in 2013 by offering Student Scholarship tickets to promising and proven young developers which helped to increase its reach and awareness of the event to students as young as 13 years old. As the tickets for this year sold out in under 10 minutes, Apple definitely enticed its attendees with promises of a lot more products.

It also helped to introduce its new iTunes Radio streaming service by organizing the band Vampire Weekend to perform. This helped to raise awareness of the new musical products while creating a new innovative tone and introducing Apple to the music scene.

Apple Special Event (2013)

Focusing particularly on the new Retina display for the MacBook Pro and the iPads, the keynote speech went a little smoother this year for Tim Cook who seemed a lot more relaxed on stage. With emphasis on the products, Apple showed the audience how collaborative working could be used for iCloud using iWork with a small demonstration and this helped to break apart the usual 20 minute presentation to make it a lot more enjoyable.

One of the other aspects of this event that really stood out was Apple’s creative celebration of its customer’s use of their products. They created a video of everyone from hikers, football players and musicians to doctors, students, engineers and farmers (even as far as technicians on a windmill) to highlight how inclusive and beneficial their products can be to everyone.

WWDC (2014)

Although the hype and interest surrounding the developer conference was what everyone had come to expect, it seemed that Apple weren’t trying to live up to expectations for once and this in part was due to the limited new or updated hardware. With a focus predominantly on services, software and their new “Swift” programming language Tim Cook came up short at the conference and failed to “wow” the attendees, leaving everything a little negative, despite the technological advances.

Apple Special Event (2014)

This Apple event will probably go down in history, and not for the right reasons! There was a lot of anticipation and hype surrounding the iPhone 6 launch by creating the hashtag #AppleLive and posting on social media backstage and the set-up behind the scenes. Apple decided to live stream and make their products accessible so that the world could watch the unveiling. However, for the first 30 minutes, Apple TV and Safari users were stuck watching a blank, barred screen, thanks to a JavaScript error. Those who could access the event were treated to a loud Chinese translator overlaying on Phil Schiller and Tim Cook due to a simple encoding error. This was a really poor start for those not at the event and led to a lot of backlash for Apple (and a lot of negative press that took the spotlight away from the actual product!)

With one technical difficulty after another this event really let Apple down and negatively impacted their image as a clean-cut brand. Let it serve as proof that even big brands can have an #EventFail

WWDC (2015)

Apple chose a different event structure in 2015 and opted to host the event in San Francisco. A major planning change was the sale of tickets operated as a lottery, as well as exclusive invites. The event tagline read: “The Epicenter of Change” which promised a lot of things to come. The different use of the ticket system and allocation was an excellent way to get around the quick sell-out times and encourage more people to apply.

This year they decided to stream parts of the conference live and it went off without a hitch. This was their most global reaching event to date, with physical attendees from over 70 countries. They also boosted the amount of scholarship tickets available to 350, which further increased the event branding among the younger demographic.

Apple Special Event (2015)

After the terrible reception of the iPhone 6 due to technical difficulties in 2014, Apple managed to redeem themselves this year by bringing some big players to the conference in the form of Microsoft. They managed to keep this secret well under wraps and surprised their attendees with a new truly integrated set of office apps, that helped prove that Apple could be suitable for the workplace without the limiting barriers it had placed before. The atmosphere at the event was particularly tense as they filled all 8,000 seats and built up the excitement for each new piece of product or software. The Microsoft apps were definitely the talk of this year and keeping it a secret until the reveal was a smart event planning choice!

WWDC (2016)

CEO Tim Cook opened at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco for the conference this year with a touching tribute to those who lost their lives in the Orlando shooting, which allowed him to connect emotionally with the audience in a way that we haven’t seen before at these events. Discussing the Apple community as a diverse range of people with different views, he helped to spread a deeper message before returning back to the usual keynote address and this changed the tone of the conference. They also chose to live stream the event to widen their audience and luckily kept their technology in check which created a better impression and start than in previous years.

From a software perspective, it seems that one of the most highly anticipated updates from Apple was in fact, the seemingly small ability to delete pre-installed apps on the devices which has been requested by users for years for customization and space saving. This event was specifically catering to what the attendees had asked for and went down as a huge success despite the lack of new products and hardware this year. Following on from this conference the latest Apple Special Event has been highly anticipated….

The Latest Event

Apple Special Event (7th Sept 2016)

The event started with a seamless stream of live music from the Beats 1 station while the set up began and people found their seats. The attendees anxiously waited with a blue lit backdrop in the auditorium and the array of Apple products on display was apparent in the audience.  

The live stream opened with a sensational surprise video of CEO Tim Cook in a carpool karaoke scene with The Late Late Show Host, James Corden which was met with large applause and cheers. It was definitely an insight into how Apple keeps up with current culture and with the addition of artist Pharrell there was a sneaky celebrity thrown in for good measure. With Tim Cook on stage using the traditional split screen presentation it is announced that Apple music will be collaborating with carpool karaoke, which explained the introduction.

Gamifying the Event

With Nintendo “father” Shigeru Miyamoto making a special surprise guest appearance exciting the crowd and introducing the latest “Super Mario Run” exclusively on IOS they did an interesting and amusing live demonstration connected to the large screen. This helped to break up Tim Cook’s discussions and add a little gaming element to the event. The addition of a great translator made the segment entertaining, informative and inciteful!


Another new feature at the event was a brief live deck edit that showed real-time editing and collaborations which went well. This was an interesting (and welcomed) change in the usual lineup of tech events because it was presented by a women which is still uncommon in the industry. This added to further segments (including the hiking App introduction) showed a refreshing diversity by Apple and for these events as a whole which hopefully will encourage new precedents for the future.

Pokemon Go

The next surprise came in the form of the CEO of Niantic labs to discuss a collaboration with Pokemon Go to bring more modern culture to the Apple products. After discussing new “heads-up game play” options on the iPhone and Apple Watch there was a live flawless demonstration that wowed attendees with new and unique ways to use the device.

Social Media Fail

Disappointingly, Apple didn’t utilize its social media strategy which is a key element in any event planning and did not live tweet the event which was a speculation that it would. Whether it intended to or not remains unseen but after regularly checking it seemed that it wouldn’t be happening for this event. That being said, it didn’t mean that their attendees and streamers didn’t do it for them! With the hashtag #AppleEvent trending within half an hour of the event, everyone had their say from attendees posting pictures to the general public offering meme’s and opinions on the updates. So it begs the question: Do they even need to Tweet?

One of the biggest faux pas of the event was not in fact from Apple, it was made around 20 minutes before the event started by Amazon who appeared to have a product page for the much speculated iPhone 7 including hinting at some of the new features (such as the rumoured dual camera lenses) prior to any formal announcements which is definitely a collaboration no no! THEN, prior to the live stream announcement Apple made their first tweet of the new iPhone 7 features, design and images with pre-order details and images before Tim Cook had even introduced it and spoiled the announcement! Even though they tried to remove the tweets quickly the spotlight had been on the anticipated account and managed to get hundreds of ReTweets and favorites before being pulled down.


Despite this, the event was another example of another seamless Apple presentation that was simple and innovative with plenty of demonstrations to keep the audience engaged. While they kept things very low-key the audience was on the edge of their seats and enjoyed the event with the surprises, guests, updates and new product features.

In Conclusion

The real trick is that their yearly event programme keeps Apple at the forefront of everyone’s mind. As per their ethos, Apple try to keep it simple and clean (sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail) but ultimately try to recreate the magic that Steve Jobs had when addressing attendees and sparking excitements and gasps from the audience.

Keeping event titles and main product launches a secret is what sets them apart from other global brands and increases the exclusivity of these events. With the hefty ticket prices and limited spaces (still at only 8,500 tickets) this is a must, keeping them as the must-attend events of the technology calendar.

Even with their increasing use of social media and live streaming making it accessible to their users they still manage to keep suspense and surprises which is uncommon with the amount of media presence around and proves they are all about image and presentation. Reflecting on previous years’ their presentation style hasn’t changed much, but it doesn’t really need too as its success speaks for itself. The clean-cut use of figures, graphics and live demonstrations make the attendees know what to expect while also expecting the unexpected which is a formula that works well for them. Ultimately, it seems that Apple is never far from the spotlight which may be one of the ways it makes their events so successful.