In the autumn of 2020, Apple surprised the tech world by holding not one, not two, but three special events in consecutive months. This went against both previous tradition and PR common sense, but reflected post-COVID realities: the pandemic meant Apple couldn't justify flying hundreds of journalists around the world to mingle and cheer and cough and hug in a crowded auditorium, and that meant there was no longer any need to cram all the autumn announcements into a single keynote speech to save on airfare.
Sometimes it takes an external change to make you realise that you're doing something in an illogical way just because that's how it's always been done.
Taking a new broom to the calendar
I think Apple's yearly calendar of product launches has more of these outdated practices that would be swept away by a fresh pair of eyes with a new broom. It's weird, for example, that so many of the company's product announcements are confined to tri-annual bottlenecks: March/April, June (WWDC) and autumn. Nothing of note happens in the winter. Nothing happens in mid or late summer. Sure we'll get the occasional iMac refresh or ancillary release to tide us over, but for the most part, we know when things are coming.
Apple's events are still virtual (which is a good thing happening for a sad reason), and likely to remain so for the rest of 2021. But even so, is there a compelling reason why the new iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods all need to be unveiled on the same day, as currently looks likely to happen?
The triple-header of autumn 2020 showed that major announcements can be staggered without lessening their impact - indeed the split format meant that Apple was able to spend far more time discussing important but comparatively unglamorous products like the Apple Watch SE and HomePod mini, which otherwise may have fallen through the cracks into a post-event press release. (The company also had more time to be informative because it didn't have to leave gaps for applause breaks, but that's a separate issue.) But I think Apple needs to go further, and think about the rigid yearly patterns that leave high summer devoid of news and autumn so crammed with it that there's ample material for three events.
The pleasures and sorrows of autumn
Why is Apple so fixated on the autumn? It's strategically a good time, of course, setting up a neat path from announcement to reviews to holiday purchases. It fits with the expectations of shareholders and the rhythms of Apple's quarterly reports.
But at a certain point, the difficulties of such an extreme bottleneck approach start to outweigh the benefits. Imagine just one of those autumn products - and there will be many - getting an announcement in August. Apple could give it the time and attention it deserves. It would get entire tech news cycles to itself, for the simple reason that everyone holds back their biggest announcements until the autumn and there's little else to write about. And it would stand out all the more because consumers don't expect it.
The world has changed. People work remotely, and the boundaries between work and home, between "on" and "on holiday," have blurred. News cycles never end, and the idea of shutting down for the summer is as outdated as a nine-to-five workday.
There are 12 months in a year, but you wouldn't think it to look at Apple's calendar. It's time to get with the times and start announcing major products in the summer.
Different Think is a weekly column in which Macworld writers expose their less-mainstream opinions to public scrutiny. We've defended the notch, argued that Microsoft is out-designing Apple, and told Apple to stop being so successful. Tune in next Tuesday to see us once again defend the indefensible.