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In just the past month, Amazon unveiled all its new Alexa goodies (including the wacky drone security cam), Google offered phones and speakers with new A.I. tricks, and Apple, well, Apple broke the bank to show off new iPhones and a mini-speaker imbued with Siri powers. Over the summer, Microsoft also officially launched its gorgeous dual-screened phone via a virtual event.
YouTube’s top tech reviewer Marques Brownlee (aka MKBHD) and his production manager and co-host Andrew Manganelli assessed all of those presentations in their most recent Waveform podcast episode. Ranking the players from top to bottom, Apple’s events lapped the field, boosted by impressive video production values alongside desirable new gadgets. Events by Microsoft and upstart phone maker OnePlus followed. Google and a couple of Samsung events brought up the rear, critiqued for having more advertising-like presentation styles.
But power rankings aren’t Data Sheet’s style. Let’s hand out some awards instead. It’s for sort-of-virtual events, so let’s dub them the Hallidays.
And the Halliday for sheer gorgeousness goes to Apple’s “Hi, Speed” event, which debuted the HomePod mini from the set of a beautiful two-story home that could easily slip into a Wes Anderson movie. The shot zooming down from the sky above Apple’s spaceship headquarters to VP Lisa Jackson standing on the roof, the wind lightly tussling her hair as she spoke, was just phenomenal. And the time lapse sunset video? Très magnifique.
Google grabs the “coconut shells for horses” Halliday, which honors the memorable Monty Python scene of turning necessity into invention, for its “Launch Night In” event. Unlike Apple’s bazillion dollar showcase, Google went for a stripped-down aesthetic and close-up shots of its presenters at its Pixel event. Google used tape on the floor of a warehouse space to outline different rooms. And Shalini Govil-Pai, the head of Google TV, was relatable telling stories about watching TV as a kid. Extra points for the montages of bloopers and silly moments.
Although Amazon showed off some cool products (see: the drone cam) at its 2020 Alexa event, its production values were not terrific and some of the presenters were a little stilted. But the company’s customer-centric culture shone through video clips of actual customers using the actual products. Amazon gets the 2020 Halliday for “doing it IRL.”
And that leaves Microsoft, where Surface leader Panos Panay wore his heart on his sleeve as he showed off the Surface Duo. “Empowering people includes sometimes challenging conventional thinking,” Panay said, the excitement over his folding not-a-phone phone leaping from his voice. That’s worthy of the Halliday for most passionate event.
So what happens when the pandemic recedes? Will Apple and its rivals bring back the looser, louder format of presenting live in front of big audiences? Or are we fated to watch beautiful, carefully edited recordings from now on?
I’m not sure. But if you rewatch the very end of last year’s iPhone 11 event, and see the ear-to-ear smile on Tim Cook’s face as the applause washes over him and he gives his team a big thumb’s up, I think you have your answer.