Will Apple Hold a Virtual iPhone Launch Event This Fall?

Apple isn’t going to delay the iPhone launch just for an in-person event.
Tim Cook Hello Credit: Apple
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Although Apple’s live on-stage product launch events have become almost legendary, over the past year, the company was forced to pivot to virtual events as social distancing and lockdowns became the norm in the face of a global health crisis.

With most of Apple’s staff expected to return to Apple Park in September, however, there was some hope that Apple may have been planning to once again hold a live in-person event at the Steve Jobs Theatre in time for the launch of the “iPhone 13” — the first such event that would be held by the company in nearly two years.

Unfortunately, with Apple pushing back the requirement for employees to return to its main campus, there’s every reason to believe that it’s going to be putting together yet another virtual event for the launch of its fall product lineup.

To be clear, it was never a sure thing that Apple would hold a live event even if employees come back into the offices right on September 1. After all, there are other things to consider, such as whether it would be safe for journalists and industry watchers to travel to California to attend the event at all, or how many would even be willing to make the trip under the current circumstances.

Still, according to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, Apple was at least considering the idea. However, he notes in the latest edition of his Power On newsletter that it’s off the table now that employees won’t even be coming back until October.

If all Apple employees were back in the office as originally planned, and if cases of infections were low, it’d be plausible to think Apple would be gearing up for its first in-person product event since 2019. Instead, expect another promotional video on Apple’s website and YouTube, plus a focus on online sales.

Mark Gurman

Although the iPhone 12 didn’t launch until October last year, that was a direct result of supply chain challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, not any artificial delays on Apple’s part. The October iPhone 12 launch was an undesirable but necessary move; Apple even had to go so far as to warn investors that the July-Sept quarterly sales would be much poorer than in previous years as a result of the delay.

Hence, there’s no reason to believe that Apple will hold back the release of the “iPhone 13” just to hold an in-person event. Apple’s goal is to get the new iPhone out and on sale as soon as it’s ready — which is very likely still going to be in September.

Return to Apple Park Delayed

Reports of Apple’s plans to delay the re-opening of Apple Park were first reported by Gurman last week, who shared that employees wouldn’t be returning to the campus until “October at the earliest.”

Sources also suggested that even October wasn’t yet cast in stone, and that employees would be given at least a month’s notice before they’d be required to return to the office.

Yet even with half the U.S. vaccinated, Covid-19 continues to kill people faster than guns, car crashes and influenza combined, according to a Bloomberg review of mortality data.

Bloomberg

The decision came following a surge in COVID-19 cases as a result of the highly transmissible delta variant, which also led to Apple recommending that its retail employees start wearing masks again, regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated. Apple also reminded retail employees of the requirement to follow any regional mask mandates being reinstated by local health authorities.

Apple’s Remote Plans Haven’t Changed

Unfortunately for those employees who are unhappy with Apple’s remote work policies, this decision has only delayed the inevitable.

There’s been no indication that Apple’s policies have changed in any way, and when employees do eventually return to Apple Park — whether that’s in October or next spring — the company will still be expecting everyone to be there in person for at least three specified days per week, with very few exceptions.

This has led to some serious dissatisfaction among some employees, to the point where some are even leaving Apple for greener pastures, seeking employment at numerous other Silicon Valley tech companies with much more flexible remote working arrangements.

While some roles, such as hardware engineering, have a very obvious requirement for in-person work, that’s certainly not the case for other jobs like software engineers, marketing and PR staff, or sales and support personnel.

Apple is already planning a hybrid work program for its retail employees, which makes its strict stance on Apple Park staff seem all the more unusual. Apple CEO Tim Cook has already stated that the company’s policies will be re-evaluated next year, but it’s starting to look like Apple may need to loosen up and offer a more permissive approach sooner rather than later if it expects to be able to both attract and keep the talent that has made it so successful.

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