With almost every new Apple product launch the company releases an introduction video to help explain why the product is so revolutionary. The videos generally premiere at press conferences where Apple unveils new products, then the videos live on Apple.com and YouTube where they’re seen by millions of Apple devotees.
Historically, the product videos have included a carousel of any number of Apple’s top twelve executives against a white background talking their new products up. The execs in the videos celebrate Apple innovation and tout lines like "this new Apple product is 18% thinner than it’s predecessor and it took an incredible cross-collaborative effort to do this."
Since Apple was founded their advertising has consistently included models and actors of color alongside their products. But because all of Apple’s top twelve executives are white males, their product intro videos have been a carousel of white talking heads touting new technologies.
It appears that the iPad mini product video released Tuesday, for the first time, prominently included someone who wasn’t a white male.
The representation of people of color in product launch videos is more than just about diversity at Apple. It’s about equity, and seeing people of color who make it to the top, AND have a say, and represent the company. That’s a lot different from just diversity in hiring or advertising.
The 4-minute video prominently features Michael Tchao, one of the original developers of Apple’s groundbreaking but failed Newton personal digital assistant. Tchao, who left Apple in 1994 before retuning in 2009, is currently the vice president of iPad product marketing.
In March 2011, Tchao made a short appearance in an iPad 2 video, however he is featured more prominently in this latest video iPad mini video.
"One of the things that makes iPad so incredible is that there is almost no end to what you can do with it," Tchao says in Apple’s new marketing video. Tchao appears alongside Jonathan Ive, Apple’s celebrated senior vice president of industrial design, and Dan Riccio, senior vice president of hardware engineering.
Apple did not respond to calls and emails made to confirm Tchao is the first person of color to be prominently featured in an Apple product introduction video. All the historic product intro videos available online on YouTube and Apple’s site only feature past and current white executives.
Before returning to Apple in October 2009, Tchao was general manager of Nike’s Techlab the company’s technology arm, which designed armbands and sneakers that integrate with iPods and iPhones.
Tchao first joined Apple in March 1986 as a product line manager, according to his Linkedin profile. He graduated from Stanford University in 1986 with a BS in Engineering and Product Design. He joined Apple shortly after that same year as a product line manager. He left Apple in 1994–four years before Apple discontinued the Newton.
Tchao has been back Apple since 2009 and has had a number of roles but he’s never appeared in any of the product videos.
To be clear, Apple has included people of color in their advertising since the company was founded. A female Asian model was included in a 1977 Apple II ad and most recently you can regularly see brown and black hands holding iPods, iPhones and iPads in Apple ads. At one point the company even featured labor activist Cesar Chavez in an ad campaign–problematic for many reasons, but especially because the ads were airing while Apple headquarters was in a labor dispute with their janitorial crew.
But the product introduction videos have been different–until Tuesday the executive product intro videos only featured white males.
The integration of Tchao in the introduction videos comes at an interesting time.
High end U.S. and European companies are increasingly included Asians and Asian-Americans in their advertising in an effort to attract buyers in Asian countries.
Google regularly features Asian and South Asian engineers demonstrating products in product launch videos. Google’s videos have also featured women.
That could be why Apple finally included someone who wasn’t a white male in their video. But this seems like it’s more than that. Perhaps a person of color finally made it to the top at Apple, the world’s most valuable company. And that’s a big deal.
After nearly 50 years of applying anti-discrimination laws, American workplaces are still dominated by white men. As Colorlines.com’s publisher Rinku Sen pointed out last week, "Men of color and all women have more access to some jobs than they used to, but the ranks of decision makers come nowhere close to reflecting our numbers in the nation as a whole."
Apple’s third retail store in Beijing, and its largest in Asia, opened this past Saturday. Elsewhere in Asia, Apple has also dealt with unacceptable (read: deadly) worker conditions in manufacturing factories.