By Dan Moren
March 31, 2016 12:11 PM PT
The Back Page: Apple events – the darker side
Sure, you might think Apple events are all glamor and glitz, but let me tell you: there’s a dark side to them.
If you live far enough away, it starts with a whirlwind trip of hundreds, if not thousands of miles. Because Apple doesn’t give a lot of notice for its events, that means expensive plane tickets, scurrying to find somewhere to stay, and logistical planning for how you’ll get to the event.
The day of, you wake up early—often before the sun, if you’re coming from the east coast—and make your way to the venue; if you’re lucky, you’ll have time to fortify yourself with a hot beverage before you make your way into the media crush.
It’s great to be able to catch up with friends and partake of the free snacks and drinks Apple provides, but remember: there’s no such thing as a free breakfast. Because this is more like a cattle call: you’re herded into a pen with dozens of other journalists, also sleep-deprived and caffeine-addled, where you make small talk about what you think will get announced today.
Hemmed in, with nowhere to go, you wait until the signal comes that the auditorium is now available, at which point you best be careful to keep your belongings close about you, lest you find yourself caught underfoot in a stampede of one-part fashionable sneakers, one-part brown wingtips, and let’s be honest, at least one person wearing sandals. Frankly, it’s enough to make even a normally non-claustrophobic person search the wall for a maximum occupancy placard.
Once you’re into the auditorium itself, you’re shoehorned into a cramped row of seats, where the fight over power strips resembles a gladiatorial match of ancient Rome. If you happen to suffer from the condition known as “being over six feet tall,” you should bid goodbye to your knees, because it’s been nice knowing them.
Now you can get out your equipment—if you can manage to squeeze it from the square foot of space wedged beneath your legs. You wonder why so many Apple writers favor the 11-inch MacBook Air? It’s not just because it’s adorable, but because it’s so easy to fit on your lap when you’ve got your knees up to your chin.
And now for the main event. If you’re lucky, you’re close enough to the stage that you’ll be able to tell which of its many white male executives the company has rolled out for the presentation. (Key tip: If it has fabulous hair, it’s Craig Federighi; if it dances, it’s Eddy Cue.) But that’s about all the attention you get to pay, because then you’re furiously typing down what they say about the six million nine hundred thousand seven hundred and thirty-four new products Apple is releasing today. Now you have become Deaf, destroyer of words—nothing more than a conduit, turning speech into text. Like a glorified closed caption machine. You begin to wonder how much caption typers actually make? Perhaps that would be an alternative job for you if you were ever to… oh, and the show’s over, and you’re hustled into a reverse version of the cattle call as everybody floods out to try and muscle their way into the hands-on area.
If you thought the auditorium was crowded, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Apple has taken to constructing miniature Apple Stores in its events, complete with uniformed employees to walk you through each new product. But because the areas are so small, you’ll sometimes find yourself in a queue to get in, manned by a friendly, but firm bouncer—not unlike waiting for a trendy nightclub, except the bouncer is wearing an Apple t-shirt.
Once you actually get into the area, it’s time to put those holiday shopping techniques to use, because finding an open spot at one of the tables is kind of like navigating the mall parking lot on Christmas Eve. You’ll spy an open stretch of table from across the room, deftly weave through the crowd only to find that it’s been taken by a TV reporter who’s going to record a ten minute hands-on segment walking their viewers through every single new feature of the device. Pro tip: avoid getting whacked by the cameraperson—it hurts like hell.
Maybe you finally manage to wedge your way into the throng and get some hands-on time, maybe even get a few of your burning questions answered. But the end comes all too soon, as Apple employees chivvy you out reminding you that you don’t have to go back to work, but you sure can’t stay here. Because they are literally going to start disassembling the building and there will be no “here” left.
So you head back to your office, only to find that your colleagues, who have been poring over Apple’s website for the last three hours, know far more about the products you just handled than you do. And that every other site seems to have already scooped you on that one key feature that you thought you found and nobody else did.
Them’s the breaks. So you hop back onto your flight home—hopefully not a red eye, because lines must be drawn somewhere—and try to construct a think piece about what it all means before downing a package of airplane pretzels and trying to sleep for the rest of the trip. And in the moment that you drift off, right before you hit a pocket of turbulence that jolts you awake and makes you wonder if you’ve seen your last Apple product unveiling, you think to yourself “Maybe next time…I’ll just stay home.”
Despite all of that—the cramped seats and the madding crowds, the waiting and the long flights—there’s nothing quite like experiencing an Apple event firsthand. Much as you might be tempted to just stay home and watch the stream with everyone else, that doesn’t quell that little glimmer of hope, the one that keeps you checking your inbox for an invitation.
Just in case.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him by email at email@example.com. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]