Apple’s next event is just around the corner, and die-hard fans have been scouring the latest invitation for clues about what new products and features may be in the cards. It’s a long-held belief that Apple hides things inside its event invitations, but we wondered whether this search for secrets ever bore any fruit (sorry) — and if it did, what sort of hints there are.
To find out, we scoured every invitation over the past 21 years and compared them against the various products subsequently announced at each event. And it turns out, again and again, Apple buries clues in plain sight. But discerning their meaning is not so simple. Apple appears to use several frequently varied approaches to leaving hints that are often difficult to decipher ahead of time. In order to get anything out of the invites, we have to learn how to follow the trail of breadcrumbs in the first place.
Two distinct periods
Early on, until around 2013, Apple took an approach best described as, well, blunt. Take the event from October 2001, when Apple sent out a paper invite promising the launch of a “breakthrough” new product. “Hint: it’s not a Mac,” the invite read. No subtlety. And the first-generation iPod followed shortly after. Or even more obvious was the March 2008 event invite, showing an unfolded map above the text, “Please join us to learn about the iPhone software roadmap, including the iPhone SDK and some exciting new enterprise features.” Any guesses about this announcement?
But that’s not to say this broad period lacked antics on Apple’s part. Take a look at the invite for Apple’s September 2005 event, which depicted a close-up of the coin pocket on a pair of jeans beneath some text reading, “1000 songs in your pocket changed everything. Here we go again.” Sure, the tagline is clear regarding a music announcement, but the image? The first-generation iPod Nano was just the right size to tuck into the coin pocket of the jeans and just the place that Steve Jobs pulled it from during the keynote. Clues hiding in plain sight.
And while other invites during this time were playful — think the plain blue background of the “There’s been a mix-up…” invite and the ongoing switch to Intel Macs — the majority were straightforward. “The spotlight turns to notebooks” paired with an actual spotlight shining on a MacBook. Hmm. “Come see what 2011 will be the year of” accompanied by the image of an iPad. Gee, I wonder.
But then came a new era. From 2013 on, Apple stopped giving clear indications of upcoming announcements and started sending more whimsical invites laden with winks and nods. These hints tended to be abstract, harder to decode, and often impossible to make sense of ahead of time. But looking over them, we found five clear approaches Apple takes when nodding at what’s to come.
One of the more apparent clues is the persistent color drops across invites. These started prominently in the September 2013 “This should brighten everyone’s day” event invite, with colorful polka dot-like circles sprinkled in the background of the invitation. Those circles ended up turning into several of the shades of the iPhone 5C lineup announced at the event. A few years later, Apple was back at it with its March 2016 “Let us loop you in” invite, which filled the Apple logo with shades of gold and rose gold that ended up reflecting the colors of the new iPhone SE. Right in front of us the whole time.
Early invites were often accompanied by images of products or the date of events. But later years got more mischievous. Take, for example, “See you on the 7th” for its September 2016 event. Colorful, blurry circles in the vague shape of the Apple logo hinted at the upcoming release of Portrait mode. And the September 2015 “Hey Siri, give us a hint” event invite directly imaged Siri’s new hill-and-valley, brightly colored waveform, nodding at the forthcoming Siri remote for the Apple TV. Generally we found that, when hidden images were included in the invites, they almost always translated directly into images present during the keynotes.
Certainly not as common as the other categories but my personal favorite is that one great example can be seen in the aforementioned iPhone 5C invite. Not only did the colorful dots reference the colors of the new phones but they also referenced the hole-punch cases released alongside them. And those thick gray borders around the white dots were glaring hints about Touch ID debuting on the new iPhones. More obvious in hindsight, the “Hi, speed” invite showed an Apple logo centered in a circle, which turned out to be a replica of the bottom of the HomePod Mini. And one of my favorites, the September 2014 “Wish we could say more” event invite included a subtle shadow casting off the leaf of the Apple logo, evoking a sundial and alluding to the eventual Apple Watch announcement. When it works, it works.
Second only to the main images is the text of the invite where Apple frequently references new features and products or simply enjoys a bit of wordplay. Both the “Let’s take a field trip” event from March 2018 and the “There’s more in the making” event from October 2018 had the only two invites with handwritten typeface, and each led to announcements involving Apple Pencils. This category also encompasses Apple’s only repeated taglines: 2006’s “It’s showtime” and 2019’s “It’s show time,” referring to the release of the original Apple TV and the announcement of Apple TV Plus. And then there’s the not-so-subtle “Hey Siri, give us a hint,” which was always going to involve Siri, and “Hi, speed,” leading to the highly anticipated 5G iPhones.
Taglines to ponder: “This should brighten everyone’s day” (iPhone 5C); “Spring forward” (Apple Watch); “Let us loop you in” (Apple Watch bands); “Hello again” (MacBook with Touch Bar); “Time flies” (Apple Watch Series 6); “Peek performance” (M1 Ultra).
— Greg Joswiak (@gregjoz) September 8, 2020
And that brings us to the newest category of invites: augmented reality. The first of these appeared for the September 2020 “Time flies” event invite, depicting a multihued blue Apple logo unraveling to form the date of the event before reforming once again. The shades of the graphic referenced the soon-to-be-released iPad Air in sky blue. The best use of this new layer of invite, though, was the November 2020 “One more thing” event invite. The AR invite depicted the Apple logo opening like a laptop and color streaming from a veritable display, nodding to the widely rumored new M1 lineup. Then there’s the subtle (and admittedly maybe a bit of a stretch) April 2021 “Spring loaded” invite. The AR invite started out with a flat circle on the ground and then sent colorful lines swirling about the screen, mimicking the search for a lost device. And behold, AirTags were announced.
So it seems the treasure hunt that has become Apple invites is indeed worth the speculation and hype. Just how hyped we should get is the only real question. Some invites hint at larger features such as 5G connectivity, while others hint merely at new wallpapers. And some are near impossible to guess ahead of time, even in light of the rampant rumor mill that reaches a fever pitch in the weeks leading up to a keynote.
So what does that mean for this year’s “Far out” invite? There seems to be clear, if warped, images of stars and galaxies — cheeky text that may mean both something physically far away from us yet also a new feature that is ‘70s-esque far out, man. And the AR layer centers us in a vast outer space environment. Given all the breadcrumbs, it’s no surprise that many are speculating about astrophotography. As for me, I’m thinking it’s hinting at satellite connectivity for either the iPhone 14 or the Apple Watch Series 8. Either way, it’s fun to keep guessing.