'Loaded' expectations: There are no secrets or hidden messages in Apple's event invitations

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Apple has officially announced a new product event, which has led some overzealous fans to once again break out their magnifying glasses and tinfoil hats, desperately searching for clues hidden in the event invitation that simply aren't there — and never have been.

For an example of the type of "hidden" messages you can find in Apple's event invitations, let's go back to October of 2010, when Apple invited members of the press to its "Back to the Mac" event. At the time, Apple hadn't yet announced the name of its next major release of Mac OS X, but the invitation explicitly gave it away, offering a peek at a lion behind a rotating Apple logo.

Calling this a "secret" or "hidden" is ridiculous — the invitation was about as subtle as a sledgehammer. Sure enough, Mac OS X 10.7 Lion was unveiled October 20, 2010 — Sherlock Holmes didn't exactly have to get up off of his Victorian-era La-Z-Boy to figure that one out.

If you're still grasping at straws, you could look at the Macworld 2008 invitation, that carried the tagline "There's something in the air." Apple would go on to announce the first MacBook Air at the show, but the invitation just featured a thin font and the top of the Apple logo, offering nothing hidden or particularly insightful about the hardware that would be announced, unless you had "product with the word 'Air' in its name" on your event bingo card.

Going way back to October 2001, the invitation for the unveiling of the first iPod came with the tagline: "Hint: It's not a Mac." Again, not exactly hidden or secret when the hint is explicitly spelled out for you. That's just a plain-old teaser.

Apple likes to generate buzz with fun wordplay teasing what it will show at its events, but the company is smart enough to not go very much beyond that. Inviting fanboy sleuthing with deeply hidden messages would allow rumors, speculation and expectations to get out of hand — and Apple isn't interested in overhyping an event only to ultimately disappoint.

Take the unveiling of the first-generation iPad in January 2010. "Come see our latest creation," the invitation read, with a white Apple logo atop splashes of paint. Rumors made it clear Apple was going to announce a tablet (and the invitation basically confirmed it), but speculation over the invitation still ran wild, with fans trying to find something that wasn't there.

One popular theory, which was picked up by the LA Times and other major news outlets: The splashes of paint may hint at the product name for the upcoming tablet: "Apple Canvas." Nope. Not even close.

Or consider Apple's September 2015 event, where new iPhones were announced. The cheeky invite read: "Hey Siri, give us a hint," which led to speculation that Apple's Siri voice assistant could see a major overhaul. Siri did play a role in the event — the iPhone 6s series allowed for always-on "Hey Siri" even when relying on battery power, and the new Apple TV featured Siri integration. But it wasn't quite the fanciful revamp that some took away from the invitation, and Siri certainly wasn't the focal point of the presentation.

And last September, Apple sent out invitations for an event with the slogan "Time flies," making it readily apparent that the Apple Watch, a timekeeping device, would be the highlight of the event, as Covid-related delays pushed the launch of new iPhones back to October. The answers were right in front of us, and yet wild speculation still persisted.

You see, the "Time flies" event invite did, in this instance, have a small secret — clicking the logo on Apple's website while on a newer iPhone or iPad allowed users to view it in augmented reality. But that's it. No big reveal, no deeper mystery.

That didn't stop CNet from suggesting that "hidden clues" in the invite could hint at new ARKit capabilities being announced at the event, or perhaps the company's long-rumored augmented reality headset could be unveiled. After all, AR technology is improved by time-of-flight sensors on newer cameras, which the "Time flies" slogan could be alluding to. Still, no such announcements were made.

Apple event invitations are fun and they are clever, but they are not intended to be mystery boxes with deep, hidden secrets about the meaning of life, let alone the next iPad. What you see is mostly what you get. Save your sleuthing for an escape room.

For next week's event on April 20, dubbed "Spring Loaded," the invitation includes colorful squiggles in the shape of the Apple logo — the kind of thing you might draw with the Apple Pencil on an iPad. And the squiggles are also in the shape of a spring. And the current season is spring. Get it? "Spring Loaded"? It's clever. And that's really all there is to it.

In other words, don't expect an Apple headset, or an Apple pogo stick.