We Don’t Need Tech Infomercials

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It’s time to end the elaborate staged events that are essentially infomercials for new technology products.

You probably know the ones I’m talking about. Steve Jobs or the current Apple boss, Tim Cook, paces a dark stage and holds up a shiny slab of circuits to an enthralled audience. Apple on Tuesday teased a planned (virtual) event next week to do the stage-pacing thing for the latest iPads.

Mary Kay-style demonstrations for the 400th edition of an iPad are clearly not the most serious problem in technology or the world. Most people will never even watch these things, thank goodness. But they are an example of how we and tech companies don’t stop enough and ask: Why does it have to be this way?

Apple’s influence has spread these staged product launches — and they are mostly overhyped and unnecessary. Elon Musk does them for Tesla cars and brain implants. Media companies have borrowed this trick for hourslong presentations for their plus-sign video streaming services. An infomercial about a website is really a step too far.

The Jobs-esque product demonstrations are also an unintentional signal of how tech companies see their customers. To them, we are blobs with wallets that can be persuaded by the Silicon Valley equivalents of a fast-talking guy on TV hawking a mop.

My biggest beef with these elaborate infomercials is that they’re at odds with what technology is now. It’s no longer confined to a shiny thing in a cardboard box. Technology now is the stuff that we don’t necessarily notice — smarter software that alerts us to hazards while we drive or tech that gives small businesses the power of Amazon. It worms its way into our homes and lives, for better or worse.

Technology is also one of the most powerful forces in the world. And yet tech companies continue to hold product launches with the manic energy of an industry desperate to get noticed.

What’s the alternative? Well, Microsoft on Tuesday published a blog post that described the latest model of its Surface laptop and other products. Spotify also posted on its website about its new experimental gadget that’s like a modernized car stereo remote.

The posts explained what the products were, and that was it. Maybe you’ve heard the line, “This meeting should have been an email?” Microsoft and Spotify showed that most product launches should be a blog post and a two-minute video.

I’m not the first person to write that the staged tech product events that Apple spread everywhere need to go. Even I’ve written about it before.

This is old hat for Apple, too. And on Tuesday it did what it has done forever: It released an intentionally vague message about what is expected to be a canned webcast presentation. This achieved its goal. People who care about technology talked about it.

And of course, that’s one reason these tech Tupperware parties endure: They get attention. (At least they do for Apple.) Journalists like me are a big part of the problem, too.

But we can just quit doing this. The Microsoft and Spotify products seemed to get noticed and written about on Tuesday even without a two-hour hype machine.

These product launches are a stale habit festering long after it’s ceased being useful. It shows a lack of imagination from companies that are supposed to be imaginative and a disrespect for us, the customers. It doesn’t have to be this way.



  • Bitcoin is real now. Congrats/I’m sorry: Coinbase, which lets people buy and sell Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, is listing its stock publicly on Wednesday. My colleague Erin Griffith explained what Coinbase is, and why its stock listing is a validation for cryptocurrency believers. (I’ll have a conversation with Erin about Coinbase in Thursday’s newsletter.)

  • Is Facebook doing more harm than good? The Guardian has been publishing a series of articles about the ways that Facebook is abused by world leaders in countries such as Honduras, Mongolia and Azerbaijan to mislead and manipulate their own citizens. It’s a familiar tale of Facebook both giving citizens a voice and silencing them.

  • Planning vacations is going to be exhausting: My colleague Brian X. Chen has a special pandemic edition of how to use tech to prepare for a trip. You’ll probably have to navigate the virus testing rules of your destination and digital documentation for vaccinations.

Let’s all look at some pretty fish on the Monterey Bay Aquarium kelp forest video feed.


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