Why Apple’s Seasonal Geek-Fest Still Matters

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Stephen Lam / Getty Images

The doors had barely opened at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco Wednesday morning before the tweets about "the running of the nerds" began to fly. Thousands of journalists, Apple employees, and assorted guests crammed into a remodeled, repainted, and thoroughly Apple-styled venue to hear what's next for the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and the Apple Watch — and they were compelled to simultaneously document the stampede with their phones, tablets, and selfie sticks held high. So many sheepish smiles: Look at us, aren't we silly!

Ironic detachment? Self-deprecation? For the journalists at least, the unavoidable contradiction of every Apple dog-and-pony show is the fact that the mass participation of the tech press is essential to making Apple's annual over-the-top exercises in cult fandom an inevitable marketing home run.

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Judging by the cheers that greeted nearly every announcement and product demo  — surging iPhone sales growth in China, the sound of a fetal heart beat on an Apple Watch, the humongous screen size of the new iPad Pro — the fanboys and fangirls assembled in San Francisco far outnumbered the reporters who were too professional or too busy Snapchatting and Tweeting and live-blogging to clap. But Apple's genius is that even an orgy of self-mocking tweets helps gets the overall message across: All that chatter means it's time to buy a new iPhone.

Of course, Apple would never be able to pull this off if there wasn't some real meat on the bones. If the last decade and a half has taught us anything, it is that the second version of the Apple Watch operating system will undoubtedly be better than the first, the iPad Pro will deliver a better television-watching experience than any previous tablet and, for a few months anyway, the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus will be, as Tim Cook declared "the most advanced smartphones in the world." We live in a world that Apple has played a significant role in creating. So we go to these events to get a clue as to what could very likely be coming next.

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Does that mean we will we be using Siri on the Apple TV to search for that episode of Modern Family which featured a cameo by Edward Norton? Or we will rush to wield the new Apple Pencil to draw on the iPad Pro (which did, I have to admit, looks pretty cool)? It's hard to say. At some point, it seems certain that the Apple locomotive will go off the tracks. None of Apple's most recent products have enjoyed the traction or the profitability of the iPhone. But as long the company can fill a concert hall with people positively eager to cheer television advertisements pushing new Apple products, that day seems far away.

At the close of the demo, Apple CEO Tim Cook introduced a three-song live set by One Republic, which he promptly dubbed "one of my favorite bands." Then he took his front row seat about ten feet away from where I was sitting and proceeded to clap and cheer like everyone else. He looked like he was in a pretty good mood. Considering how much of the world's attention hangs on his every multi-touch swipe, who can blame him? 

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