A Rhetorical Examination of the Product Keynotes of Steve Jobs

By Alexander E. Hopkins
2012, Vol. 4 No. 09 | pg. 6/9 |

When Jobs first introduced the iPod, he knew that one of the main public complaints of about MP3 players was their notoriously-slow music transfer times. Jobs explained: “Apple invented FireWire, and we ship FireWire on every computer we make. It's built into iPod. It's the first and only music player with FireWire. Why? Because it's fast. You can download an entire CD onto an iPod in five to ten seconds. Lets take a look at how it compares to USB. Five to ten seconds to load an entire CD with FireWire. On a USB, you’re talking five minutes. Let’s talk about one thousand songs. On iPod with FireWire it is under ten minutes, on a USB players it is five hours. Can you imagine? You get to watch it for five hours as it loads the songs. Under ten minutes with iPod. It's thirty times faster than any other MP3 player” (Gallo, 114).

The antagonist here was the sluggishly-slow syncing speeds of the USB serial port. Once again, Jobs established a need for the iPod because it's syncing-speed was blazingly-fast. While Jobs could have used highly-technical language to explain these speeds, he used real-world un-complicated statistics to show the frustrating way of life for most consumers.

In addition to being an intuitively-effective music organization software, iTunes also functions as an online media store. Initially, the iTunes store’s selection was limited to music and podcasts. As the years passed, the selection has expanded into movies, TV shows, digital song booklets and mobile applications. While iTunes as a music-management software was introduced in early-2001, the online store did not open until April 28, 2003—the same date that Jobs delivered a keynote that introduced the third-generation iPod. He laid-out his views when he remarked: “There’s no—legal—alternative that’s worth beans. Well, you say, ‘well, what about press-play and rhapsody? What about these things? Well, they’re both subscription services. You can't just go get a song and pay a little. You have to subscribe to them. And they don't even let you download all the songs. And they don't even let you put all the songs on your MP3 player. And they don't let you burn a lot of CDs. Here’s press play: If you do get some downloads, which you have to pay extra for, you can play them as long as your membership’s active. So, so, you pay to download 500 songs, and one day you decide to stop paying your subscription fee and your entire music library goes away. Here’s Rhapsody: ‘only subscribers to the All Access subscription plan at $9.95 per month will get the ability to burn tracks, of course, for an additional fee per track. These services treat you like a criminal. And…they are subscription-based. And we think subscriptions are the wrong path” (YouTube, 2003).

Here, the antagonists to the iTunes music store were the duo of the RIAA and music subscription-based services such as Rhapsody. This 2003 keynote, coming two years after Napster was shut-down, was important because it condemned the music industry. He felt that the music industry’s protection against copyright-infringement had gone too far, as innocent consumers and music “pirates” were lumped into the same category. For Jobs, the entirety of Apple’s business was focused on developing products that users could own. He believed that the RIAA were treating every consumer as a criminal by regulating music-subscription services that were, in essence, “stealing” a consumer’s subscription music collection if they missed just one of their monthly payments.

Amongst other inconveniences, these subscription music services frowned-upon transferring this “rented” music on to MP3 players. MusicNet made this impossible at first; PressPlay was restrictive (Elliot & Simon, 175). Furthermore, since consumers did not have access to all of the five music labels in one place (as previously mentioned, MusicNet had three of the major labels, while PressPlay had two), neither of the subscription services allowed consumers to sync one another’s music on to a computer, much less an MP3 player (Elliot & Simon, 175). To Jobs, it was a soured “all-or-nothing” deal.

When observing Apple’s business strategies today, it becomes clear that this keynote in particular left an enduring legacy. It reinforced Apple’s views on how subscription-based services should be run. Subscription-based software licenses, like music-based software licenses, were paid on a monthly basis. However, even if a consumer discontinued paying for Apple’s software subscription, all of their data would still be available if they re-activated their service in the future. One fine example is an online software service introduced in January 2000 called iTools. iTools, of course, laid the groundwork for future Apple-based services, such as MobileMe and iCloud.

In response to the unreasonable demands of subscription models, consumers engaged in digital piracy—illegally downloading media without paying for it. While the RIAA’s treatment of digital music consumers as “criminals” was unjustified, the RIAA’s argument was not without merit. In 2002 alone, the RIAA’s profit fell an alarming 8.2% (Elliot & Simon, 174). The RIAA believed that making music catalogs available online made it easier for consumers to steal music, as opposed to stealing it from a physical record store (Elliot & Simon, 175). Despite Napster’s peer-to-peer closure in July 2001, other peer-to-peer networks, such as Kazaa and LimeWire, still existed during Jobs’ April 2003 keynote. However, Jobs believed that music piracy was a behavioral concern, not a technological one, as the RIAA believed (Elliot & Simon, 175-176). Jobs could empathize with consumers, since consumers could not find all five major music labels in one place (Elliot & Simon, 175). Jobs believed a solution could be found by harnessing the technology employed by illegal peer-to-peer media networks and creating a pay-to-own model. He described his thoughts: “Which brings us to acquire. Now, we acquire our music off CDs, right? You go down, buy a CD and rip it. Now, we all know, starting in 1999, there was this phenomenon called Napster. It was shut down in 2001, but it demonstrated some things for us. It demonstrated that the internet was made for music delivery. And it's offspring, uh, Kazaa, is alive and well today, distributing lots of tracks. Now, there’s a good side and a bad side to this. The good side is that it offers users near-instant gratification, at least compared to going down to the record store. And it shows that the internet was built for music delivery. The downside [to this] is that it's stealing” (YouTube, 2003).

Here, Jobs alluded to well-known failed and then-current peer-to-peer networks (Napster and Kazaa, respectively) in order to logically-assert that “the internet was built for music.” Since the peer-to-peer media networks still had operating servers, Jobs knew that the RIAA’s problems were far from over, hence allowing him to speak-out on the issue. He knew that members of the audience or, at the very least, demographic samples similar to the audience, were the cause of the problem.

It may seem surprising that he would empathize with the audience by listing-off the advantages of peer-to-peer networks. While not evident in the above passage, the full keynote cited several perceived advantages of peer-to-peer networks, including a large music selection, unlimited CD burning, syncing music to an infinite number of CD players and it's no-cost nature (Gallo, 144). However, he added coldly, “it's stealing.” Subsequently, he explained the cons of downloading illegally—unreliable downloads, unreliable quality, no music previews and no album art, stealing.

In his keynote, Jobs literally spits-out “… distributing lots of tracks.” When listening closely to the recorded version, “tracks” sounds quite similar to the rhyming “traps.” Whether or not this was intentional, Jobs could still segue into his argumentative logic—that peer-to-peer networks were not worth a consumer’s time in the long-run. With several news stories of teenagers being prosecuted by the RIAA, the ensuing PR nightmare for the RIAA resulting from did everything but endear customers to the music business (Elliot & Simon, 174). During this time, it was not uncommon to hear about teenagers being thrown in jail and/or paying enormous monetary fines.

Jobs’ solution towards the issue of subscription models and illegal downloading was to open the iTunes music store. Hilary Rosen, the head of the RIAA at the time, justified her risk in taking a chance on Apple by remarking, Apple had such a small [3%] market share that it made [the record companies’] risk fairly low (Elliot & Simon, 176). Steve Jobs believed that, amidst the RIAA’s negative publicity for prosecuting piracy offenders, that the RIAA could still emerge stronger than ever. However, he believed that something new had to be given a chance first. That is, since nothing stays the same in business, the only way to meet the demands of innovation is to unleash more innovation (Elliot & Simon, 174). Unlike PressPlay or MusicNet, iTunes contained all five labels, thereby minimizing the risk of digital piracy. As Stephen J. Kobrin, publisher and executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Digital Press, wrote: “Jobs also had the ability to see beyond the horizon; while the music companies were focused on jailing teenagers [for illegal downloads], he developed the business model for digital music” (Wharton, 2011).

When the iPhone was unveiled in January 2007, Jobs believed that he could re-define the smartphone (Gallo, 76). In order to makes his assertion credible, Jobs had to show the limitations of current phones and show how he could solve these limitations. Prior to revealing the physical device, Jobs explained: “The problem is [that existing smartphones,] they are not so smart and they are not so easy to use. They’re really complicated. What we want to do is make a leapfrog product that is way smarter than any mobile device has ever been” (Gallo, 76).

Jobs then ran-through several visual slides in his keynotes, depicting existing smartphones as ugly, hard-to-use and bulky. He believed that physical buttons were not physically-attractive, could not serve multiple application inputs and monopolized much-needed screen space (Gallo, 65-66). What Jobs unveiled was an all-in-one device that had several features that appeared more refined than any other smartphone on the market at the time.

Besides it's stylish good-looks and ease-of-use, the iPhone owed much of it's success to it's own proprietary Apple operating system. In order to compete with Apple, Google created it's own operating system called “Android.” This operating system quickly gained popularity among many mobile phone manufacturers. Like the Microsoft Windows operating system, Google’s mobile operating system separated mobile phone manufacturers from the software developers. Like Apple’s Macintosh strategy, Apple developed both the hardware and the software in-house. The end result was that Apple had control over virtually every part of the development process.

Since there was a separation between manufacturers and software developers for most of the cell phone industry, no single company outside of Apple had control over every part of the development process. As such, Jobs exploited this fact by pointing to Android’s operating system, specifically it's ignorance towards public modesty. During the April 8, 2010 introduction for the fourth-iteration of iPhone, Jobs remarked: “There’s a porn store for Android that you can go to, and it's got nothing but porn apps for your Android phone. And you can download them, and your kids can download them, and your kids’ friends can download them on their phones. And that’s just not the place where we want to go” (Beahm, 82).

The antagonist here was Google’s Android operating system, specifically it's porn application store. Perhaps the most effective part of his remark is the characterization of Android’s porn application store as a “nuisance.” In particular, this “nuisance” would not only be bothersome to Apple, but it would be bothersome to the public as well. At this point, Jobs was speaking as a concerned member of the public, reflecting the public’s “awe” that Android would have a mobile application store dedicated to pornography.

Unlike Android, Apple’s mobile operating system has parental controls that allows parents to prevent their children from downloading media that they deem inappropriate. Furthermore, since Apple controls the entirety of it's proprietary application store, every app that is sold through the store must go through a thorough approval process by Apple. Since Apple cares about public modesty, it does not approve applications that are pornographic in nature.

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