Since 2011, Apple has invited journalists and analysts to the San Francisco Bay Area every fall, for the hottest tech ticket of the year – the unveiling of a new iPhone.
But with a pandemic in full swing – and showing no signs of dying down – Apple is expected to skip the physical reveal, and put the show online in September when it announces the latest slate of iPhones.
Rival Samsung is doing just that as well on August 5, with a virtual sneak peek at its latest phone, the Galaxy Note update.
But, what do we as consumers miss out on, by turning the tech launch into a TV show?
“Nothing,” says Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies and a longtime Apple analyst who has attended every Apple iPhone launch since it was first introduced in 2007.
The iPhone events usually begin with a two-hour keynote streamed presentation by Apple CEO Tim Cook and other executives, as they trot out the devices and praise their features.
“Apple puts most of the emphasis on the production that is streamed to millions of viewers anyway,” Bajarin says. “They’ve got this down.”
For journalists and analysts, the exciting thing about covering the iPhone reveal is running from the theater, where the keynote was held, to the “hands-on” room, to see for ourselves what the new phones actually look and feel like.
Rich DeMuro, a tech reporter for KTLA-TV in Los Angeles, and the author of “101 Handy Tech Tips for the IPhone: Updated, Simplified and Revised for IOS 12,” says it’s all about getting into that room to see the product for ourselves.
“You can see the nuances in the software, and understand what the product is going to look like before it hits store shelves,” by getting to see the product up close, he says. The journalists in the room act like “detectives,” to figure out the differences between the levels of phones, and get to compare them, for instance, to older models, since Apple doesn’t make those available.
It also provides oodles of authentic, less staged photos of the products by the blogging set, since Apple’s are ultra-shiny, minimizing the warts by showcasing, say, iPhones held in midair by an invisible string.
Apple heldits annual Worldwide Developers Conference online in June, due to COVID-19, and Bajarin says it went off without a hitch.
He believes that Apple could actually present the hands-on experience more effectively online. “You would take each unit, and look at it, front, back and side. There is nothing of the actual hands-on experience you can’t replace virtually.”
Apple will get the same amount of attention for the iPhone launch as it normally would have because it’s an iPhone event, staged for the most sold and best-loved device in the United States, says Dan Ives, an analyst with Wedbush Securities.
“But there’s just something about being there live,” notes Ives. “I’ve been covering tech events for 20 years and attended hundreds of product launches,” he says. “But nothing matches the excitement and anticipation of being live at an iPhone launch. It’s electric.”
The Samsung event, slated for August 5 at 7 p.m. EDT, is advertised as “live on Samsung.com,” as opposed to the last company event, held at the tony Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco to introduce the latest Galaxy S phones.
Ives says that while Samsung is a huge international brand, in the United States it doesn’t have the pull of an Apple, and thus will see less coverage virtually than it might have in person. “It’s more of an uphill battle for them.”
Meanwhile, Bajarin says the days of tech conferences are mostly done until late 2021, due to the fear of gathering in big contagious crowds.
Notable exception: CES, the consumer electronic show, which plans to go on with and in-person show, in January, like always.
On its website, the Consumer Electronics Association, which stages the CES, says fewer people will attend, due to COVID-19 concerns (CES attracts over 175,000 yearly) and thus, will be healthier. However, it notes, “we also recognize the possibility that new developments with the pandemic may require us to cancel the physical, in-person show. This would be a difficult decision but may be necessary. In that event, we will move forward with an all-digital show.”
Apple declined to comment.
Follow Jefferson Graham on Twitter: @jeffersongraham.