Google launched its flagship phones, the Pixel 4 and 4XL. Google launched its Pixel 4 and 4XL phones with much fanfare despite the fact that the improvements are relatively minor compared to the previous models. Google’s launch is the latest of a long line of digital tech launches that have overstated their recent innovations.
On September 10th, Apple announced three new iPhones as well as two new subscription services: TV+ and Apple Arcade. Two weeks later, Amazon unveiled a list of gadgets during its Alexa event. All of these launches share a common trait: they all introduce “novelties,”” which are simply iterations of their existing product offerings, but they are marketed as revolutionary.
In marketing and advertising, exaggeration is not a new phenomenon. Digital corporations have a specific strategy for their product launches. These events are not primarily about launching particular gadgets. The main goal of these events is not to introduce specific devices but rather to place these companies in the heart of the aura the so-called “digital revolution” has created for billions of users and customers around the globe.
Silicon Valley was not the first to launch new technologies through public events. Alexander Graham Bell, Guglielmo Marconi, and other entrepreneurs and inventors of the late 19th century and early 20th century organized events to introduce the phone and wireless transmission.
Alexander Graham Bell launched the long-distance phone line between New York and Chicago in 1892. Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress
These events attracted not only scientists and technical experts but also politicians, entrepreneurs, and even kings. Thomas Edison, the celebrated American inventor, went a step further and presented his new products at public events like international exhibitions or tech fairs.
Launches of new products, like today, helped to shape public opinion and make companies such as AT&T, Marconi, and Edison a household name. Even wars were fought using them. Edison began a series of public events at the end of the 19th century to promote the direct current standard over the rival alternating voltage. Edison even electrocuted elephants (like Topsy in front of reporters) to show that the rival standard was dangerous.
More recently, Steve Jobs followed the footsteps of these inventor-entrepreneurs and codified a “genre” – the so-called keynote. Jobs, alone on stage in jeans and a roll neck (a geek’s informal uniform), launched Apple products before audiences of tech enthusiasts. These events contributed to the myth surrounding Steve Jobs and Apple.
What is the real purpose of product launches?
Jobs’ talents were more for marketing and promoting new devices than developing technology. Apple’s founder has been aware of the power of digital technologies since the 1980s. The vision saw personal computers and the internet as the harbingers of a new age.
It was a powerful myth that centered on the idea that the digital “revolution” is a concept that has traditionally been associated with political changes that came to describe new technology. Jobs staged Apple’s launches to make it appear as the embodiment of this myth.
Apple’s 2007 iPhone launch is a good example. Jobs began his speech by stating that “every so often, a revolutionary new product is launched that changes the world.” Jobs used key moments in Apple’s history to illustrate his point: The Macintosh revolutionized “the entire computer sector” in 1984; the iPod transformed “the entire music industry” (2001); and the iPhone, which was “about to reinvent the phone.”
This is a very narrow view of the technological revolution. It’s like assuming that a large crowd in Times Square is there because you told everyone to go. This is a convenient view for large corporations like Apple or Google. These companies need not only to create sophisticated hardware and software but also to maintain their position in the digital market. They also need to cultivate the myth that the world is in an unending state of revolution, which they are at the forefront of.
We call this myth corporate determinism in our research because, like other forms of determinism, it assumes that a single agent is responsible for all changes. Digital media companies such as Amazon, Apple, and Facebook communicate with the public in a way that propagates this myth.
You should not worry if Google’s latest launch has blown you away. Product launches are not really about launching products. The key function of product launches is not to launch products.