“Developers, developers, developers, developers, developers.”
In 2000, footage of a sweaty, high-energy Steve Ballmer, then Microsoft’s CEO, went viral after he walked on stage and shouted the same word over and over again.
It was one of many moments over the past 30 years of a live tech event that created a must-see moment.
But recently, tech fans have been denied live launches due to the Covid pandemic.
Keynote speeches, long demos popularized by Apple’s Steve Jobs, among other tech luminaries, have all but disappeared.
Instead, almost all tech companies have turned to virtual events. In most cases, this involves extremely brilliant pre-edited videos.
“We watch them all together, quote without quote, ‘live’, but they’re not live. They’re pre-recorded and broadcast live. It’s like a first on YouTube,” says technical commentator Jason Snell .
And some believe this format is here to stay.
This Tuesday, Apple is expected to launch several new iPads and other products in this manner, having already revealed new iPhones and even given the keynote presentation at its annual WWDC developer conference through such means.
Many who would have attended in person love the change.
“Last year was one of the best conferences they’ve had… very few people didn’t enjoy this format,” says Ish Shabazz, a freelance iOS developer, who has attended WWDC annually since 2015. .
One of the major problems with live events is that there is little space in the conference room.
Mr. Shabazz says that even though he went to Apple events, he usually couldn’t get into the main hall.
In fact, most spectators watch from a distance, which poses a puzzle.
“You’re talking to people in the audience,” said Carolina Milanesi, technology analyst.
“So the folks at home watching, who are die-hard Apple fans, don’t feel that included.”
The good thing about a pre-toured video, she adds, is that it now feels like GM Tim Cook is speaking directly to every potential customer.
Briefs on stage
There are other reasons tech companies might like a pre-recorded format as well.
On the one hand, it eliminates the awkward occasions when something is wrong.
Over the years, there have been many moments like this. I looked back fondly now, back then, they weren’t that funny to the people involved.
Like the windows of Tesla’s unmaskable Cybertruck, this errrr…. instantly shattered when struck with a metal ball.
The Apple brand is based on beautiful, high-end gadgets.
Having errors on stage – like when Steve Jobs’ iPhone 4 demo crashed in 2010 due to Wi-Fi issues – doesn’t match the image he wants to project.
“It suits the Apple brand to have this pristine, carefully constructed video where they control everything, and you don’t have any of the blur of a live event,” says Snell.
Hosting a live event can also be costly and stressful.
Not all tech CEOs are natural public speakers. Pre-recorded videos, using the auto-detect function and as many shots as you want, may be suitable for some.
In many ways, then, it makes sense to ditch the live events.
These launches, however, are more than the presentations themselves.
As Mr. Shabazz points out, Apple’s annual developer conference is an opportunity to meet and network with others.
“It’s the highlight of my year, honestly. It’s when we can go talk to everyone in the community,” he says,
For most of the people who attend these conferences, developing in-person contacts is a huge draw.
For tech companies too, live events, with a crowd, are a chance to energize a launch in real time.
“The set design has an audience and applause. It works, that’s right. That’s why they make songs laugh on sitcoms… it’s weird without it,” says Mr. Snell.
Sure, pre-recorded videos eliminate the risk, but as anyone who has watched a football game behind closed doors can attest, a stadium without crowds can create a sterile atmosphere. It’s not what you want when trying to get people interested in a product.
Do not touch
Virtual events also limit the way journalists rate products.
“You miss the opportunity to actually touch devices, and that’s important to Apple,” says Milanesi.
Many companies send products to reviewers, but there is often a delay between launch and when a product is in the hands of reviewers.
“I think Apple would prefer to have it in person if they were launching a new iPhone event or something they wanted to show off,” says tech reporter Steven Aquino.
He believes companies like Apple will move to a hybrid model, with much of their conferences pre-recorded, but with live elements mixed in.
Google has announced that it will try out such a model at its next I / O Developer Event next month on an outdoor stage.
It is still not clear when the live events will be possible. But when things get back to normal, it’s likely that tech presentations will have changed for good – and maybe for the better.
James Clayton is the BBC North American reporter based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @ jamesclayton5.