A month ago, the world saw Apple as equal parts North Pole and KGB—unpredictably innovative and notoriously secretive, they were a force wielded by nothing less than magic. Then, an elf got loose.
A month ago, Cupertino was a sacred land of living hyperbole. Journey long enough across its infinite loop, and you may run into Steve Jobs. Perpetually donning a black mock turtle—incidentally, the preferred color of magicians, assassins and melancholy artists alike—his brain was sure to be full of secrets...secrets that would successfully elevate mere bits of circuits and aluminum to cultural phenomena.
Jobs may have been an ordinary guy at one time in his life, but it'd been years, maybe decades, since anyone could view the man with mortal objectivity. Some saw him as a genius and others, self-parody, but nobody just saw Steve for a long time.
Logic tells us that Steve Jobs (and designer sidekick Jonathan Ive) could never have dreamed up and built these new phones and computers alone, but beyond all the cars parked around the Cupertino campus, there was little public evidence to question this line of thinking and millions in marketing to support it.
But in trust, the force of will of two men wasn't enough to keep Apple's magical beans from spilling. In fact, an entire suboperation of moles at the Cupertino campus was committed solely to keeping employees "loyal" and quiet.
Engineer Gray Powell is one of the many hard-working people behind Apple's toys. His actions weren't the cloak-and-dagger espionage anticipated by moles and security guards.
Like me or you, he was out with some friends celebrating a birthday at a bar. Like me or you, he forgot his phone when he left. Like me or you, he was probably three sheets to the wind, failing to realize the transgression until he woke with a headache.
In what many consider to be an incredible story about an incredible invention by an incredible company helmed by a few incredible people, the crux falls on the most normal protagonist possible. It wasn't some eccentric billionaire, chic designer, stuffy CEO or industrial spy that foiled Apple's Worldwide Loyalty Team and legacy of secrecy. Rather, it was a dude who drinks beer. He dropped a phone, disguised in a rubber iPhone prosthetic cover that, honestly, resembled something out of Get Smart as much as it did James Bond.
And upon hearing the news—immediately following the gleeful buzz—we fell victim to a collective series of realizations:
An iPhone prototype was found at a bar -> an Apple engineer lost an iPhone at a bar -> the iPhone is built by people -> these people like the same stuff I do -> Apple is just a group of people...many of them dudes like me who drink beer -> anything made by people cannot be magical
It's the potential of this same train of thought that keeps pornography off the iPhone: Apple fears everyday flawed humanity mixing too deeply with their products, lest you realize the products were made for humans by humans.
When The Today Show, Good Morning America, The View, the BBC, CNN—when any type of media outlet discusses the iPhone, it's never about the iPhone. Little analysis goes into the potential UI repercussions of a front-facing, motion-tracking-ready camera. Few people mention that a 16% larger battery may be the tipping point of relying upon their iPhone through an active workday.
Nobody cares that the screen is 3mm shorter or that it celebrates classic Dieter Rams design—not beyond the purpose of filling a bulleted list, not beyond the purpose of proving to readership/viewership that they were actually discussing, well, something.
Nobody cares what they're seeing. They just care that they're seeing it. Since all of us saw our first few pictures of the new iPhone, we realized a truth, whether we admitted it or not:
The iPhone hasn't been the interesting part for a long time. It's a nice phone, but it's only made by humans, humans who drink beer and lose their phones, just like us. Humans who could never make magic, live up to their own marketing or, heck, even keep a decent secret.
It's always just been Apple. And now that we've garnered a peek inside, the once secret society of magicians, assassins and melancholy artists looks like any another tech company.
Apple will continue to do business—great business—following the leak of their most prized commodity, the next iPhone. But as Steve Jobs prepares for his next magic show, we'll never forget seeing the strings. An unparalleled era of surprises has come to an end.
We've just lost one of our few self-indulgences of wonder. Christmas morning will never, ever be the same.