It had all the ingredients of a perfectly memorable Bermondsey house party: Ed Sheeran anthems on the sound system, Aperol spritzes to wash down ox-cheek canapés and episodes of Stranger Things on the TV. Except this house had been built from the ground up, for the launch of Google Home, with on-brand door knockers shaped like the letter G.
When it comes to introducing a new product, pulling out all the stops for the launch has become a field of innovation in itself. When the Samsung Galaxy S8 was revealed yesterday, simultaneously at both London’s Olympic Park and New York’s Lincoln Center, there were packed out audiences, live music and immersive videos to drive the message home. At the American event, YouTubers Franchesca Ramsey and Casey Neistat made the audience laugh uproariously with routines riffing on phones (many tuned in to watch online too) and at a recent Apple launch, Sia performed.
There ain’t no party like a tech launch party. “Launches are our opportunity to share with the world our excitement around ground-breaking new products,” says a spokesman for Samsung. “From inviting people to follow launches through our channels such as Facebook and Twitter, to live streaming our events, we are using social and digital platforms to make our launches as inclusive as possible and involve as many as we can.” Here’s how to launch a product.
Setting the stage
On Tuesday, to showcase its Google Home technology to the UK, Google unveiled a house in Bermondsey it had built from the ground up. Hallways, bedrooms, a kitchen — the works. The idea was to put the voice-activated smart assistant (a rival to Amazon’s Alexa) in its element by unleashing it everywhere from the bathroom (“Hey, Google, play music”) to the bedroom — a fully furnished bedroom, with a king-size bed, wardrobe and even a pair of slippers snugly tucked away. Guests compelled the AI to adjust the thermostat, flick Stranger Things on via Netflix on the room’s smart TV and turn off the lights (“Hey Google, I’m ready for bed”).
Apple and Samsung know that launches mean putting on a show. “One phone launch by Samsung in New York was a lavish, high-kicking musical in Radio City Music Hall,” says freelance technology editor David Phelan. “It was slick, lively and very cheesy. Apple’s events are extremely focused on the message, but that doesn’t mean there’s no glamour. Often they end with a guest appearance from a band or singer. I’ve seen Sia, Kanye West and — best of all — Tony Bennett singing I Left My Heart in San Francisco at the final MacWorld event.”
The last Google launch event — for the Pixel phone — worked with the theme “OK Google +, help me get home”. Accordingly, it had built a miniature Tube station — complete with a working train. Nintendo Switch meanwhile invited guests to milk a virtual cow when it launched.
Food for thought
Upstairs at Google Home’s Google home, a teeming kitchen was kitted out with long tables and fully stocked Smeg fridges. The party continued with Aperol spritzes, as well as fine meat and celeriac among dishes served by self-proclaimed “MasterChef losers” (they were finalists last year) Billy Wright and Jack Layer.
“You can always tell when the food at a launch is good because journalists huddle round the exit to the kitchen.” says Phelan. “Usually, canapés are pretty average, but the hands-down best launch food has to be at the Club des Chefs extravaganzas from Samsung, where they show off their latest kitchen equipment and where the snacks are cooked in front of your eyes by a select group of Michelin-starred chefs.”
Often, though, the star attraction is as much the name behind the ticket as the product. Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, in a turtle-neck sweater and battered trainers, was fabled for his showmanship, stunning thousands at a Macworld conference in San Francisco by unveiling the original iPhone in 2007. “Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything,” he said.
These days, current CEO Tim Cook goes even further: last September, the Apple boss filmed a Carpool Karaoke skit with The Late Late Show host James Corden and musician Pharrell Williams. They drive through San Francisco as Cook, Corden and Williams sing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama, before Cook runs out of the car and onto the stage at a conference to deliver the news that Apple Music will be teaming up with Corden to make its own Carpool Caraoke series.
Presentation and correct
Then there’s the small matter of the product that’s being revealed. “Amazon’s UK launch of the Echo was impressive,” says Phelan, “because there was a lengthy demonstration of the voice-recognition capabilities of the Echo. Voice recognition is difficult to achieve in a domestic situation, near-impossible in a large-scale public one, but it went flawlessly.”
But what about when it all goes wrong? “This happens quite a lot and you leave thinking, ‘Well, if they can’t get it right now, will it ever work for me?’ It’s also extremely cringe-worthy when things go horribly wrong. Even if it makes for fun reporting.”