SLIDESHOW

How to Interpret Apple Event Invites from the Past

Let's prep ourselves for the January 27th event by remembering how Apple alerted us to previous product launches.

A Brief History of Those Apple Event Invites

Apple may be the world’s most famously secretive tech company, but it’s impossible to be completely secretive about a press conference if you want the press to show up. So the week before the company holds one of its product launches, it issues invitations. With an Apple event that supposedly involves a tablet computer a bit over a week away, it’s instructive to review past invites and how the world reacted to them.

These invitations aren’t a comprehensive record of every interesting product Apple has released–some of the biggies have been announced at Macworld Expo and Apple’s own WWDC, which are held sans cryptic invites. And I haven’t attempted to document every invite here–just a bunch of representative highlights.

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October 23rd 2001

Back in 2001, Apple’s invites weren’t e-mailed JPEG images–they were printed on paper and Fedexed to members of the media. “This coming Tuesday, Apple invites you to the unveiling of a breakthrough digital device,” one invite told recipients. “(Hint: it’s not a Mac).” In 2001, Apple sold almost nothing but Macs, so that was tantalizing indeed. Scuttlebutt had it that it was some sort of music gadget–maybe a player/recorder or a hi-fi component. But here’s an amazingly prescient post that wonders if it would be, if you will, some sort of “iPhone.”

It turned out to be: the first iPod.

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April 28th 2003

Apple sent an invite to reporters promising “announcements that will be music to your ears.” That narrowed the subject matter down to something musical. Speculation included that they might involve Apple involve new iPods, the news that Apple was buying Universal Music, and/or a new music service.

It turned out to be: Thinner new iPod models and the first version of the iTunes Muisc Store, with a whopping 200,000 songs at 99 cents apiece. Apple didn’t mention having purchased any music companies.

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October 26th, 2004

“Steve Jobs, Bono and The Edge invite you to a special event,”read the invite to this event. That guaranteed an appearance (and performance, everyone assumed) by the U2 musicians, which presumably meant the event was music-themed. Rumor had it that it could feature a photo-capable iPod, an iPod preloaded with U2’s catalog…maybe even a flash-based iPod.

It turned out to be: Photo-ready iPods and a special U2 iPod (no preloaded music, but you could buy the band’s complete works in downloadable form). And yes, a performance by Bono and the Edge. No flash player, though.

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September 7th 2005

By this time, Apple invitations were distributed as graphical e-mails. This one gave a nod to the original iPod, which might or might not signify a music event. Educated guesses about the announcement included the much-discussed Motorola “iTunes phone” and a video iPod.

It turned out to be: the soon-to-be-much-malgined Motorola ROKR. But then Steve Jobs said he had one more thing. And that turned out to be the flash-based iPod Nano, the sliver-like replacement fo the iPod Mini. Nobody but nobody predicted it–but the invite, with the 1000 songs reference and art showing a tiny jeans pocket inside a larger one, was full of hints. It remains the most compelling evidence that Apple invites sometimes include secret clues.

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October 12th 2005

This invitation merely placed Steve Jobs’ “One More Thing” catchphrase before a red curtain. I tried my hand at interpreting it, and decided that the One More Thing was most likely a strikingly new video iPod–not just “the iPod as we know it with a bigger screen.”

It turned out to be: A video iPod. But pretty much just the iPod as we know it with a bigger screen.

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February 28th 2006

What are “fun products?” Cnet’s Ina Fried talked to one analyst who said he thought they might include a 17-inch MacBook Pro and a 13-inch widescreen iBook. Engadget wondered whether a touchscreen video iPod might be involved.

It turned out to be: The instantly-obscure iPod Hi-Fi! A refresh of the Mac Mini! New iPod cases! Apple apparently was using “fun” as a code word for “not very exciting.” Meanwhile, the company did eventually release a 17-inch MacBook Pro, a 13-inch iBook (as the MacBook), and a touchscreen video iPod. Just not at this event.

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September 12th 2006

Here’s an invite that hinted at something involving movies or other forms of entertainment. Engadget listed these possible announcements: a new iPod Nano, a new iTunes, a video streaming device, a new iMac, and movie downloads.

It turned out to be:
a new Nano, a new iPod Shuffle, a new iTunes, a video streaming device (in the form of a preview of iTV, which reached the market as Apple TV), new video iPods, and the first Apple movie downloads. No iMac.

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September 5th 2007

By 2007, the Apple-watching world had figured out that Apple events in the Fall usually involved music. This one made it official with the “Beat Goes On” tagline and cover-flow visuals. AppleInsider said that Apple was “widely expected” to introduce OS X-based iPods. It also stated that “the beat goes on” was a phrase from the Beatles’ final press release–which inevitable led some to expect that the event would feature the release of the Beatles catalog on iTunes. (Oddly, nobody thought it foreshadowed anything involving Sonny and Cher.) Also rumored: a squarish new iPod Nano and iTunes movie purchases over Wi-Fi.

It turned out to be: OS X-based iPods (the iPod Touch). Non-OS X-based iPods (the iPod Classic). A squarish new iPod Nano, and iTunes movies via Wi-Fi. And–drum roll!–absolutely no Beatles.

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September 9th, 2008

Pretty straightforward: This art had to be inviting media representatives to an iPod-related event. The one that Apple held every year at about this time. PC World rounded up rumors: a skinny new iPod Nano that had apparently shown up in spy shots, an improved and/or cheaper iPod Touch, and maybe a built-in satellite radio tuner for the Touch. Wired, meanwhile predicted that Apple would launch a subscription music service.

It turned out to be: the skinny Nano was real, as was the better and cheaper Touch. Apple also announced iTunes 8 (with Genius playlists) and HD movie downloads. Predictions of satellite functionality were Siriusly off-base. And subscription music was a no-show.

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October 14th, 2008
March 17th, 2009

By this point, it was reasonable to wonder if Apple had dropped the notion of intentionally elusive invitations in favor of utterly straightforward ones. Nothin' mysterious about this one at all.

It turned out to be: a thorough update on iPhone OS 3.0.

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September 9th, 2009

Media types received the now-standard Fall iPod invite, with rocking, iPod-brandishing silhouetted figure and reference to an old pop song. The iPhone Blog's rumor recap included iPod Touches with cameras, iPod Nanos with cameras, iPod Classics with cameras, iPhone OS 3.1, and album-like iTunes multimedia packages. And some sunny optimists continued to expect the Beatles even though the invite quoted the Stones.

It turned out to be: Eventful mainly because it featured the return of Steve Jobs. There was little in the way of major news: a camera-equipped Nano debuted, as did iTunes Plus albums and iPhone OS 3.1, but the Touch and Classic remained lensless.

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January 27th, 2010

I don't know of anyone who thinks this newest invite heralds anything but the introduction of the Apple tablet. Does it contain any fiendish clues we'll all understand once the event is underway? Well, it's the least specific invite in quite a while, and says that it involves a new "creation." That might seem to suggest something other than a standard Mac, iPod, or iPhone. And maybe-just maybe-the explosion of color refers to the fact that Amazon's Kindle and its competition all sport monochrome displays.

Other than that, I make no guesses. Join me for live coverage of the event on Wednesday, January 27th at 10 a,m, Pacific Time and we'll figure this thing out.

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More Apple history on Technologizer:
Apple Patentmania: 31 Years of Big Ideas

The Patents of Steve Jobs

Apple Rumors: The Early Years
Inside the Macintosh Portable