Apple’s keynotes have always had a certain mystique, complete with seamless product demos, smooth promotional videos, and a class-of-the-industry organizational flow. While a great product can sometimes speak for itself, it’s the people behind the performances that really sell these events, from Phil Schiller to Tim Cook to Craig Federighi.
With that said, not every Apple exec can sell a $600 device like Steve Jobs. We watched Apple keynotes over the last seven years with an eye for style, strengths and weaknesses.
Here’s what we found:
Apple’s Best Keynote Speakers
6. Tim Cook
Likes: memorizing lines, rehearsing
Cook’s never been especially engaging as a speaker, with a slow and steady demeanor that borders on over-rehearsed. It doesn’t help that he tends to cover the least interesting content, whether that’s how fast tickets sold out or why Apple just built an Apple Store in Berlin.
Like the iPhone itself, however, Cook has improved incrementally over the years, sounding less memorized and more relaxed, particularly during Monday’s WWDC keynote. He’s also learned to hand the stage over quickly, which has allowed Cook to play the snappy tour guide instead of the dawdling storyteller.
Finest moment: The beginning of the 2014 WWDC keynote
5. Scott Forstall
Likes: being smarter than you
Dislikes: acknowledging mistakes
The former Apple executive used to be a keynote staple, serving as Jobs’ #2 presenter in the years following the launch of the iPhone. Forstall was never bad, but he carried a certain smugness on stage, a tendency made worse by controversial releases like Siri and Apple Maps. He had a habit of pointing to the scoreboard (ex: sales, overall satisfaction) in the face of legitimate customer grievances (ex: Game Center, directions).
To be fair, his iOS expertise and raw intelligence always made Forstall a competent presenter, but the attitude behind the words carries a lasting legacy.
In sports, commentators often say that underdog teams in big games are “just happy to be there.” For Forstall, it was the opposite. Of course he should be there. He was the best.
Finest moment: Forstall’s 2011 presentation on iOS 5
4. Phil Schiller
Likes: geeky stats
Dislikes: basic but necessary information
Schiller is a fine presenter: knowledgeable, well-rehearsed, properly-paced—you know, the sort of guy Microsoft would kill to have on hand for its next Surface announcement. Still, Schiller’s routine is predictable. He winds up slowly, hits peak enthusiasm when covering the geekiest details (ex: breaking down a MacBook’s internals), then lands with a bit of a thud when he finally gets around to summary details (ex: pricing, release date).
That said, Schiller’s sensible, everyman demeanor works to great comic effect when he’s forced to do a funny FaceTime chat or physical stunt. Though the most absurd routines have tapered off in recent years, he was once Steve Jobs’ most trusted comedic sidekick. Crucially, Schiller’s play acting always comes off as more reluctant than showy, making him the one Apple presenter whose jokes never seem the least bit arrogant.
Finest moment: Schiller’s “death dive” gag in 1999
3. Jony Ive
Likes: high-minded, philosophical musing
Dislikes: physical stages
With phrases like “crystalline diamonds,” “unapologetically plastic,” and “highly-polished chamfered edge,” it’s a miracle Ive can get through Apple’s product videos with a straight face. But Jony’s magic always comes along about halfway through each video, where, despite all the platitudes, Jimmy Kimmel jokes and YouTube spoof videos, you find yourself nodding along. As a matter of fact, I do want a phone with a “bespoke assembly” and “a clear lacquer hard coat.”
Only Ive would describe electronic gadgets in such lofty, ludicrous terms…and yet, only Ive could pull it all off. While he doesn’t do keynotes, Ive has become such a staple in Apple product videos that he deserves mention on this list.
Finest moment: Selling a plastic, year-old phone (iPhone 5c) as “the distillation of what people love about the iPhone 5.”
2. Craig Federighi
A rising star and natural speaker, Federighi is by far the most charismatic presenter currently at the company. Regardless of the product, topic or audience response, he emits an unwavering, boyish enthusiasm, beaming his way through spec lists, bad jokes, and routine product demos. Before 2012, he was a small-time extra, lucky to be on stage for 10 minutes at a time. Since then, he’s become the face of Apple’s keynotes, presenting for nearly 50% of WWDC 2013, and fully 70% of Monday’s event.
Federighi’s not perfect: he loves sprinkling his comments with empty superlatives (“incredible,” “awesome,” “really nice”), while his constantly cheerful buzz leaves little room for emphasis (how do we know what’s important and what’s not?). But his ability to make 78 minutes of keynote fly by faster than an episode of Silicon Valley makes him easily the best presenter of all current Apple employees.
Finest moment: Owning the stage for 70% of the 2014 WWDC keynote
1. Steve Jobs
Likes: bold, blanket statements
Dislikes: unreceptive audiences
In the end, of course, there can only be one choice for Apple’s greatest presenter: Jobs himself. With the confidence of Forstall, the mesmerizing qualities of Ive and the enthusiasm of Federighi, Jobs combined the strengths of his successors to sell everything from the iMac to the iPhone. Jobs also had the Clintonian ability to make people believe something just by saying it. Ive needs pleasant music, a white background, expensive machinery and a non-specific European accent to convince people: all Jobs had to do was open his mouth.
Jobs did have a speaking flaw—he would get visibly annoyed at his own audience when they didn’t respond how he expected—but his various gifts far outweighed the occasional flash of temper.
Apple might still be able to put on a show, but today it needs four guys to do it. Before, one was enough.
Finest moment: Announcing “three revolutionary products” in 2007
This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.
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