For nearly 20 years, there has been one live presentation style to beat in the world of technology: Apple’s. The company’s keynotes, as originally envisioned by Steve Jobs, are famous for featuring a minimalistic black screen and messages presented in clear Helvetica Neue—along with meticulous scripting. Just about every presentation that has come since, whether from Amazon, Facebook, or a small upstart, tends to feel like a bad copy.
That was until yesterday, with Snap’s annual Partner Summit, which took place virtually. (Snap canceled the in-person summit due to COVID-19.) Snap introduced new tools to get its partners and users excited—features that let you splash the world in augmented-reality paint and sneak apps into your chat messages. And it beat Apple at its own game of keynote theatrics, as the designer David Walker noted on Twitter.
Snap opened its presentation with a two-minute silent video of a spinning sun, channeling an aesthetic seemingly inspired by the light and space artist James Turrell. That circle slowly transformed into a canary yellow globe, the brand color of Snap. It was an almost ostentatious celebration of art—and just the message that Snap wants to send. As cofounder Bobby Murphy put it to me last year, “If you said to me, ‘The only thing [Snap technology] will ever amount to was this beautiful new way to experience someone else’s imagination through your own eyes,’ that would be enough for us!”
Then, Snap positioned the bright yellow globe as a rising sun behind the presenters, who appeared to stand not in a theater, but on a beach (harkening back to the company’s start in Venice, Calif.). None of this spectacle was real, of course: It was a green screen, compositing an artificial backdrop behind the speakers.
The whole thing was whimsical and otherworldly, and it perfectly captured Snap’s greatest advantage: The company is the world’s leading augmented reality platform, a place that blends the corporeal world with digital illusions. In this space, Snap is not trying to be another clone of Apple. It’s trying to be itself.