“You want to know one of the dirty secrets of modern life?” said an Apple store employee. “People shoot endless amounts of footage on their fancy video cameras and then they never bother to edit one minute of it. Why? Because it’s too hard.”
It was a recent Thursday morning, and the staff member—let’s call him “Bob”—who had a round face reminiscent of King of Queens actor Kevin James, was standing in the spacious auditorium on the second floor of the Apple store in Soho, delivering a tutorial on iMovie, the Apple video-editing software. He stood behind a podium, facing rows of plush stadium seats, and launched into a story. He said he had a brother, “God love him,” who was one of these people, who shot a ton of video but never learned how to edit the stuff. As a result, Bob explained, over the years, he and his family had been forced to watch countless hours of boring, unedited vacation footage. Don’t be that guy!
For the next hour, Bob demonstrated the effectiveness of Apple’s video-editing software: slicing and dicing some stock vacation footage of a snowboarding trip in Aspen and a day at the beach in San Diego into a snappy little narrative with seamless transitions and a banging soundtrack. Along the way, he used a tool that Apple has dubbed the “precision editor.” Everything was so simple, Bob explained, yet also so advanced. He showed off the “Blair Witch” function (which stabilized shaky handheld shots), the Ken Burns effect (which allowed you to pan out from a still shot) and the green-screen tool, which, he said, Jon Stewart uses all the time on The Daily Show.
‘Apple is a cult. I’ve been a member for years.’ —Kurt Andersen
Throughout the lecture, people came and went. A scruffy man in a baseball cap napped in the back row. A silver-haired gentleman, balancing a laptop on his knees, took furious notes in the front. Nearby, a student did his Japanese homework. A woman sipped coffee. And a middle-aged man alternated between watching the lecture and reading the Bhagavad Gita.
In the current recession, Apple stores in New York, like Barnes & Noble branches before them, serve as choice workday sanctuaries for the white-collar unemployed—a near perfect place to bask in the buzz of mental activity without any undue requirements of productivity, cost or scrutiny. You can check your email, take in a free lecture, read the paper, all the while enjoying the whiff of self-improvement that swirls through Apple’s airspace at 3G speed.
At the front of the room, Bob added the final special effects to his Platonic version of the home movie. It was time to project the movie on the theater’s big screen. Sometimes, he warned, this step caused the computer to crash. Not to worry, though. He had saved his work. Bob hit the mouse pad. The computer froze. He spent a few moments tinkering, and eventually got the movie to play. When it was over, a few dutiful Apple students in the front row clapped. “If my brother would just learn to do this, we’d applaud him, too,” said Bob.
“We’d ask him to show it to us again and again.”
ON SATURDAY, April 3, the Cupertino, Calif.–based Apple is set to introduce its latest life-editing device, the iPad, into our ecosystem. The arrival of the sleek tablet comes at a time when conspicuous consumption is a no-no in New York. (Hello, D.C. pay czars!) And yet the imminent arrival of the eye-catching gizmo, (suggested retail price, $499), has touched off a seemingly citywide bout of exuberance. It will save publishing! Free us from the tyranny of the keyboard! Make the subway fun! All this before we’ve even so much as tickled a tablet.
Credit the early swoon, in part, to Apple’s ingenious marketing, which positions the iPad (and the entire holistic Apple experience) not as the self-absorbed hedonistic pleasure that it is, but rather as a rewarding route to self improvement in the service of your job, your profession, your city and your family. It’s a powerful pitch, in no small part because the desire to, say, precision-edit our siblings runs deep in all of us.
Apple’s sexy designs also dovetail nicely with New Yorkers’ vanity. “It’s very thin,” was one of the first things Apple chief Steve Jobs said of the iPad at his keynote address in January.
“Apple devices are sort of quintessentially Manhattanite,” Andrew Essex, the advertising executive and former Details editor, recently told The Observer. “They’re sleek, and self-congratulatory, and highly functional. Philip Johnson would approve. Once the price point comes down, you’ll see more people happily sitting by themselves engaged with iPads, rather than looking like social pariahs. I think it will dramatically change the subway experience. It will become an obligatory commuter accessory.”
The gospel of Apple, like the teachings of, say, yoga, promises to take the disjointed limbs of our personal and professional lives, made stiff from too many pulls in too many different directions, and set them straight again. The restoration of order, we are promised, is a preliminary step that will lead eventually to a substantial increase in power. The arrival of the iPad takes this promise of personal reordering and magnifies it to the entire city. Among other things, the iPad promises to simplify the messy entanglement of advertising and what is now called “content”—the unraveling of which in recent years has left so many members of the New York media tied in knots.
“As a former magazine maker, I always remember the collective groan when we first saw our precious book mucked up with a random assemblage of ads,” Mr. Essex explained. “As someone who now works on ‘the dark side,’ I often hear the groan of marketers who see their precious ads inelegantly inserted like uninvited guests at someone else’s party. Though you’re going to see lots of cool interactive ads (and edit), I predict that the iPad will ultimately end this increasingly artificial pas de deux and allow engaged readers to buck up for ad-free books. Meanwhile, the brands that subsidized all that content will start hosting their own parties.”
In other words—ohhhm—natural orders shall be restored.
ASIDE FROM APPEALING to personal vanity and professional hope, Apple products are remarkably effective at swallowing whole the nuclear family. The decision to buy one Apple device, be it a single iPhone or iPad, can soon lead from conversations about cell phone minutes, to discussion of music libraries, to possible reordering of photo collections, until eventually, the whole family must be gathered for the talk. So kids, we’re converting to Apple.
Currently, the New York–based author and public-radio host Kurt Andersen owns an iPhone, an Apple laptop and an Apple desktop. His wife and two children are also deep into Apple devices. The Andersens are an Apple family. Is an iPad next? “I haven’t pre-ordered one, like some of my friends,” Mr. Andersen told The Observer. “But I’d be surprised if in six months I didn’t own one.”
“Apple is a cult,” he added. “I’ve been a member for years. The Apple stores, as churches in the religion, are pretty effective.”
For weeks now, New Yorkers have been turning up in the Apple stores and attempting to pry loose bits of insider knowledge about the iPad, which will be available on Saturday for those who pre-ordered, from the men and women in turquoise T-shirts. “People have been asking me a lot—‘Have you seen one? Do you have one?’” one Apple store employee told The Observer recently. “Actually, no.”
The day of the iPad’s coming-out party, Apple stores in New York are scheduled to offer a series of workshops on how to operate the new devices. But as of five days before the rollout, according to our source, no demo devices had yet arrived in the stores, creating pangs of anxiety among the rank-and-file staffers charged with translating the tablet to the masses. Typically, executives at Apple headquarters provide store employees with a script, outlining the basic capabilities and social imperatives of each Apple device. It’s up to the Apple workers to humanize it.
“I don’t know anyone who follows the script word for word because they’re kind of corny,” said our Apple store source. “But you’re encouraged to bring in your own stories. And that’s another huge part of the Apple mind-set. How can we improve and enrich people’s lives? At first, it sounds like, ‘Oh boy, I’m drinking some Kool-Aid here.’ But it’s actually easy to do. You think, ‘How do I use this stuff? Does it enrich my life to be able to manage a large music library through iTunes?’ And so on and so forth. You’re not really drinking Kool-Aid, if it’s true.”
The iPad script is expected to arrive on Friday night. “The scripts come locked in a titanium box, handcuffed to two burly men,” said the Apple worker.
Kidding! Actually, the scripts come from corporate headquarters via an employees-only Web site. In the meantime, how it will all work out remains a bit of a mystery. “We’re still trying to figure out how to logistically do the presentation so that people can see what’s going on and not just have people huddling around like a sermon on the mount,” said our source.
JUST AS APPLE lust is a powerful driving force, so, too, is its counterpart emotion: Apple disgust. Fall out of love with Apple and you tend to fall hard. Last August, after going through three iPhones in roughly two years, the journalist Amanda Fortini wrote a piece for Salon titled “My Evil iPhone.” “This allegedly revolutionary item, this magical gadget that promised to change our lives, fails at even the most elementary tasks,” Ms. Fortini wrote. Afterward, Apple zealots went wild in the comments section, and Apple haters responded in kind.
“Apple is very polarizing,” said Ms. Fortini. “The people who love Apple, love not just the aesthetics or the technology. It’s philosophical. There’s an idealism that surrounds it and a sense that it makes you a better person. On the other hand, there are a bunch of people who feel like they’ve been duped by Apple. It’s like being in a bad marriage. It’s like, ‘Wait, you didn’t tell me about this when we were dating? And now suddenly you’re acting up!’”
Divorcing Apple is a tricky business. There are lots of entanglements. And perhaps, as a result, temper tantrums on the part of irate customers occasionally disrupt the Apple store bonhomie.
“There are plenty of times people get pissed off,” said our Apple store employee in New York. “I’ve seen people lose their shit on the floor and start yelling until you have to bring over a manager. But you’ll experience it the most at the Genius Bar. It’s largely because Apple has done such a good job at customer service and set the bar really high, that people’s expectations jump even higher. The expectation is—‘Something has gone wrong with my computer, I need it fixed … NOW!’ People turn into 3-year-olds.”
So what happens if an entire industry sets its expectations for an Apple device—dare we venture it?—too high?
Back in the Soho auditorium, the possibility of backlash was not even remotely palpable. Bob was wrapping up a presentation on how to turn your iMovie into an iDVD. He showed how to make a splash page that really popped, told an allegory about the importance of organization and reminded everyone that you had to make things simple sometimes for the sake of your mom. He told one last story about the time he used his Apple software to make a killer slide show for his cousin’s wedding. Despite all the forethought and effort, the whole thing almost fell apart because he forgot to allocate time for burning the family biopic onto a DVD. So don’t wait for the last minute, he warned. Think ahead! “Now have a nice day,” he said. “Be creative.”
And with that, Apple’s latest batch of Precision Editors were free to go forth and multiply.