It’s something we can all learn from.
I hadn’t noticed it myself. Maybe you hadn’t either. But every single Apple product in every promotional photo is set to 9:41 a.m. MacBook, iPad, iPhone, it really doesn’t matter. With one big exception (which we’ll get to), for every Apple product in the world, it was exactly 9:41 a.m. at the time of its photo shoot.
Random coincidence? Obviously not. But why 9:41? Turns out it was a carefully made choice. Also, it wasn’t the original choice. Earlier on, Apple products were apparently photographed with a time of 9:42 a.m.
What is this craziness? Australian iOS developer Jon Manning wanted to know too. And he happened to be at the first iPad launch, where he saw Scott Forstall, then senior vice president of iOS software at Apple and leader of the original iPhone and iPad software development team. Manning had noticed that early products had been set to 9:42 in their photos, but that changed to 9:41. Brimming with curiosity, he asked Forstall what was going on.
The answer had to do with Steve Jobs and his very carefully crafted product launch presentations, Forstall explained. “We design the keynotes so that the big reveal of the product happens around 40 minutes into the presentation,” he said. “When the big image of the product appears on screen, we want the time shown to be close to the actual time on the audience’s watches. But we know we won’t hit 40 minutes exactly.”
Preferring to be early rather than late, the team literally gave themselves an extra couple of minutes and set the devices to 9:42 a.m. in product photos. But as Jobs practiced his presentation, it seemed he would unveil the first iPhone at 9:41 a.m. and so the image of the phone was set for 9:41. And it worked like a charm. When Jobs introduced the original iPhone at MacWorld 2007, the first image of the phone with its screen turned on appeared on the giant screen behind him with the time set to 9:41 a.m. at 9:41 a.m.
“It turned out we were pretty accurate with that estimate, so for the iPad, we made it 41 minutes,” Forstall told Manning. “And there you are–the secret of the magic time.”
As Engadget points out, even when Jobs was still doing them, not all presentations were timed with the big reveal around the 40 minute mark. Still, the 9:41 time has stuck, and it speaks volumes about a company that pays attention to detail to the nth degree. That extreme attention to detail is everything. It’s why Apple can charge prices for products with basically the same functionality as lower-priced competitors and have consumers think that they’re status symbols rather than overpriced. It’s why people stand on line to buy Apple devices on launch day, as Manning did on the day he met up with Forstall.
We often dismiss details, saying that we want to be strategic and not get stuck “in the weeds.” But it’s those tiny details that make companies like Apple what they are. It’s an example every business owner, and every manager can learn from.
So what’s the one exception to the 9:41 rule? The Apple Watch, which is always photographed at 10:09 a.m. In this, Apple is following longstanding tradition throughout the watch world, because when a watch has an analog face (as Apple Watches can) having the hour hand a bit past 10 and the minute hand a bit before 2 provides a pleasing symmetrical shape that emphasizes the watch company logo or whatever graphic is right below the 12. Apple apparently decided that having the hands at 9:41 just wouldn’t look right.