Apple’s iPhone 6s event will blow up the Internet

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The nondescript exterior of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium doesn't give an inkling what Apple's up to inside.
The nondescript exterior of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium doesn't give an inkling what Apple's up to inside.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

SAN FRANCISCO — Just how big is Apple’s next product reveal going to be? All signs point to it being a massive blowout of an event — far bigger than the standard iPhone “s” upgrade the world is expecting.

Could we finally be getting the long-rumored iPad Pro in addition to the iPhone 6s? Or the even more unicorn-like Apple TV set? Maybe a Dr. Dre performance of his new album Compton or a stateside version of the Apple Music Festival?

One thing’s certain: Apple is once again using its PR smarts to whip up a storm of interest in whatever it’s going to show the world Sept. 9. An expert blend of secrecy and bigger-than-big thinking shows that Apple is still a master of the marketing game. Even Siri’s getting in on the action, offering up snarky hints about the upcoming event.

San Francisco's Bill Graham Civic Auditorium is where Steve jobs unveiled  the Apple II.
San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium is where Steve jobs unveiled the Apple II.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Going big — really big

For starters, the venue is much larger than usual for one of these iPhone upgrade events, which are traditionally held each September. Apple’s Sept. 9 event will take place inside (and possibly around) San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. The hall holds 7,000 people, which is a big upgrade from usual Apple venues like the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (which is just a few blocks away from the Bill Graham Civic) or the Flint Center for the Performing Arts down the peninsula in Cupertino.

The supersize venue for the iPhone 6s event is the first tantalizing clue that Tim Cook and crew are about to lay something big on us. Stealthily setting up shop in this venue, which has deep ties to Apple’s roots, is just as savvy as erecting a mysterious building outside the Flint Center like Apple did for last year’s Apple Watch event.

Then there’s the intermittent street closures around the Bill Graham Civic. Granted by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, they give auditorium operator Another Planet Entertainment the option to shut down parking and lanes of traffic through Sept. 13.

On Thursday, one lane of traffic on Grove Street was shut down in front of the venue. Most of the activity was happening on the back and sides of the building, with a security guard or two at every corner and a handful of San Francisco police officers thrown in for good measure.

The classic San Francisco smell of urine wafted through the air and a smattering of homeless people milled about or slept in the tree-studded Civic Center Plaza across the street from the auditorium. I’m sure Apple can get that scrubbed clean in time for the big event.

City officials are mostly playing dumb about the event, or saying they can’t say a word due to nondisclosure agreements. Security guards and tradesmen working to outfit the auditorium are also keeping mum.

“It’s some special event!” one guard told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s bigger than a goddamned concert, I can tell you that.”

Myriad people came and went Thursday afternoon, used to the bustle around the busy plaza and apparently unaware of the amazing things being prepped inside the nondescript building.

Even the landlord of the Bill Graham Civic claims he doesn’t know what’s up — and professes amazement at the size of the Apple event.

“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Rob Reiter, project director for the Civic Center, told the Chronicle.

What's Apple planning for its big iPhone 6s event at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium?
What’s Apple planning for its big iPhone 6s event at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium?
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Secrecy is the secret ingredient

Then there’s the expertly crafted shroud of secrecy surrounding the iPhone 6s event — it’s perhaps the most important ingredient in Apple’s intoxicating marketing stew, and crucial when it comes to working Apple fans and the media into a frenzy.

Permit applications show the venue being booked for a “trade show” between Sept. 4 and 10 by Adams and Associates, an entertainment/audio-visual company operating out of Rohnert Park, California, according to a San Francisco Planning Department official who spoke with the Chronicle.

The company told Cult of Mac they couldn’t confirm or deny that they are working the event, but their LinkedIn and Yelp listings have been mutilated in the past two days.

The updated version of Adams and Associates’ LinkedIn page lists the outfit as a “fishery,” while the cached version says the company is “a premier corporate event design and production company.”

Meanwhile, the company’s cached Yelp listing says Adams and Associates specializes in “Audio, Video, Lighting and Staging Equipment rentals,” “Event Management” and “Show Production.”

Secrecy, misdirection, sleight-of-hand — Apple’s kinder, gentler PR team is pulling off some serious big-tent magic.

Turning up the volume on Apple Music

So, what’s this all working up to? While Cult of Mac’s in-house prognosticators suspect the extra-large iPad Pro will come at a yet-to-be-revealed October event, we strongly suspect Apple Music will be the star of the show come Sept. 9.

The free three-month trial period is about to end for Apple’s totally acceptable music-streaming service, and Cupertino needs to kick its marketing push into overdrive. Subscription numbers have been reasonably good, and Apple denies mass defections, but Cupertino needs Apple Music numbers to be a screaming streaming success if it’s going to steal Spotify’s crown and lay claim to the future of music.

Plugs from Apple’s music rainmaker Jimmy Iovine and tasteful TV ads are one thing, but Apple needs to break out the star power to really crank up the volume on Apple Music and drown out the haters.

They’ve got Dr. Dre and Trent Reznor on the payroll — it’s time to roll them out!

Or they could bring back Apple favorite Drake — only to perform this time, not to offer a boring speech onstage. Or turn us on to something truly inspiring from the kind of up-and-coming artists that Apple Music’s ballyhooed expert curation is supposed to deliver on a daily basis.

Bringing Dre and others onstage for command performances in front of a live audience, filled with the usual fawning tech press and a few of the frothing Apple faithful, could ignite interest in Apple Music. (Perhaps not coincidentally, this Apple event will be streamed live to Windows users for the first time ever. Talk about widening the net — let’s just hope the stream doesn’t crap out.)

Following up the iPhone 6s reveal by busting out a U.S. complement to London’s free Apple Music Festival — which was shortened to 10 days this year, by the way — could generate the kind of mammoth buzz Apple needs to move the needle when it comes to subscriptions for its fledgling streaming service. Let it spill over into the streets and into Civic Center Plaza.

Done properly, it might even erase the taint of Apple’s U2 debacle from the minds of music lovers everywhere.

Additional reporting by Buster Hein and Jim Merithew.