Where is the flair in the tech industry?
It is the seventh day of June, and the calendar shows the year 2011. I sit down next to my brother, in front of the worn down desktop computer as it struggles to stream a live telecast of Apple’s iCloud keynote. Now this was fascinating to me for a myriad of reasons; the first being, I had never heard of the idea of a product launch before. Why does the announcement of a new smartphone or computer need a two-hour long event? It didn’t make any sense. But as I watched the lean frame of Steve Jobs take the stage, it suddenly dawned on me. This was not just an event for a product announcement. This was a performance. It was hours of carefully curated work being showcased in the most dazzling, spectacular manner possible. It was a story.
It has been almost nine years since Jobs bid farewell to the world, and with that, left the world of product launches with a gaping void in the middle. As I look at companies like Google trying to innovate, doing incredible things with their software over the past couple of years, a certain flair is missing. I remember watching the first live demonstration of Google Duplex, stunned by what I had just borne witness to. I gaze fondly at the solitary camera on my Pixel smartphone, and marvel at the computational photography that enables it to light up the world in a manner my eyes simply cannot. I look at Google Duo, the video calling application that, in my eyes, holds no competition. However, these products have failed to make a dent in the universe, the way something like an iPhone 4 did.
This can largely be attributed to the lack of a proper narrative or structure around these product launches. From my desk about fifteen thousand kilometres away, I can see an underlying thread that weaves and connects all of them together, to make them more compelling for an average consumer. I recall an interview with Jobs and Gates at the D5 conference in 2007, where Jobs said, ‘I think the biggest thing was, Bill was really focused on software before almost anybody else had a clue, that it was really the software.’ I can see history repeating itself, where companies have started to realise that hardware, especially around smartphones, have been pushed to the extremes of Moore’s Law. The pie really is in the software, so to speak, and there is something almost poetic about how Google is losing the cake on marketing their strengths as well as they could.