A momentous keynote filled with symbolism, this event triggers lots of fond memories of old keynotes, but also marks an inflection point where Apple started to do a few things differently with them.
It saw the return of several iconic keynote phrases. "One More Thing..." was used to introduce the Apple Watch after a three-year hiatus, clearly held back out of respect for Steve Jobs, and brought out here to great effect to signal how big a moment this was for Tim Cook's Apple. Cook also summarized the watch by highlighting how it was basically three things: a timepiece, a communicator, and a health companion, harking back to Jobs' "three things" introduction of the iPhone.
It saw Apple's return to the Flint Center for the first time since 1999, the stage on which the original Macintosh and iMac were revealed. It's the closest off-site venue to Apple, only a couple of blocks away, and was used for all the non-expo/conference keynotes of the late 90s. For this event, Apple built a large bespoke white building in De Anza College's Sunken Garden right in front of the Flint Center. The spartan but cavernous white main room contained a long table of Apple Watches, while the side rooms, shrouded in darkness, held the demo areas for the new iPhone and Apple Pay.
It also featured a return of Bono, who brings the full U2 band with him for the first time. Bono first appeared in an Apple keynote during an iChat call with Jobs at the October 2003 iTunes event, and then came on stage and gave a performance the following year when the U2 iPod was introduced.
But this keynote also ushered in changes that have continued with later events. Tim Cook informed us off the top that he was going to eschew any company updates, and has largely gotten out of the habit of showing us a video of the latest retail store opening and how many visitors there have been at the retail stores in the last quarter.
The biggest on-going change was in regard to the videos that summarize a new product and are shown after all the on-stage introductions are complete. A staple of Apple keynotes and the easiest part of them to parody, they've evolved over the years. From 1998 to 2004, they featured Jony Ive and other Apple employees casually sitting in furniture in an office setting, and also included clips of people from third-party companies, educators, celebrities, and customers. For the next four years, Apple did not create any product introduction videos, pretty remarkable considering this was during the period when the original iPhone and MacBook Air were released. At the end of 2008, they came back with a new design, taking place in a white world inhabited only by Apple employees who are constantly looking at something over your left shoulder.
Starting with this keynote in 2014, the introduction videos morphed again. Jony Ive speaks on behalf of all of Apple, and itemizes the various design elements through narration instead of appearing in person. With incredibly high production values and CGI effects that tease apart the product, like a real-life exploded-view drawing, all while the product is being used by a customer stand-in, these new videos are a lot harder to parody. Although Ive is now the only voice of Apple in these videos, because he's off screen, there's actually less focus on him, and more on the product.
The day will come when a product introduction video will be narrated by Richard Howarth instead of Jony Ive, but with these subtle changes, that day will be a little less jarring.