January 28, 2023

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It’s time to end the lavish staged events that are essentially infomercials for new technology products.

You probably know the ones I’m talking about. Steve Jobs or the current Apple boss Tim Cook walk up and down a dark stage and hold a shiny circuit of circuits to an enthusiastic audience. Apple teased a planned (virtual) event on Tuesday next week to take the stage pace for the latest iPads.

Mary Kay style demonstrations for the 400th edition of an iPad are clearly not the most serious problem in technology or the world. Most people will never see these things, thank god. But they are an example of how we and tech companies don’t stop enough and ask: Why does it have to be this way?

Apple’s influence has spread these staged product launches – and they’re largely oversubscribed and unnecessary. Elon Musk makes them for Tesla cars and brain implants. Media companies have borrowed this trick for hours of presentations for their Plus-Sign video streaming services. Advertising through a website is really a step too far.

The Jobs-like product demonstrations are also an unintended signal of how tech companies view their customers. To them, we are blobs with purses to be convinced of the Silicon Valley equivalents of a fast-talking man on TV bargaining a mop.

My biggest problem with these elaborate commercials is that they conflict with today’s technology. It’s no longer limited to one shiny thing in a box. Technology is what we don’t necessarily notice now – smarter software that alerts us to dangers while we drive, or technology that gives small businesses the power of Amazon. It invades our homes and lives, for better or for worse.

Technology is also one of the most powerful forces in the world. And yet, tech companies continue to launch new products with the manic energy of an industry that desperately wants to be noticed.

What’s the alternative? Well, Microsoft posted a blog post on Tuesday describing the latest model of its Surface laptop and other products. Spotify also posted information on its website about its new experimental device, which resembles a modernized car radio remote control.

The posts explained what the products were, and that was it. Maybe you have the line “This meeting should have been an email?” Belongs. Microsoft and Spotify have shown that most product launches should be a blog post and two-minute video.

I’m not the first to write that the staged tech product events that Apple has been distributing everywhere have to take place. Even I’ve written about it.

This is old hat for Apple too. And on Tuesday, it did what it did forever: it posted an intentionally vague message about what is expected to be a canned webcast presentation. This achieved the goal. People interested in technology have spoken about it.

And of course, that’s one reason these tech Tupperware parties endure: they get attention. (At least for Apple.) Journalists like me are also a big part of the problem.

But we can just stop doing that. Microsoft and Spotify’s products seemed to be noticed and described on Tuesday even without a two-hour hype machine.

These product launches are a stale habit that festers long after its usefulness ends. It shows a lack of imagination by companies to be resourceful and a disrespect for us customers. It doesn’t have to be like that.

  • Bitcoin is real now. Congratulations / I’m sorry: Coinbase, which can be used to buy and sell Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, publicly listed its shares on Wednesday. My colleague Erin Griffith explained what Coinbase is and why its listing is an endorsement for cryptocurrency believers. (I’ll be talking to Erin about Coinbase in the newsletter on Thursday.)

  • Is Facebook doing more harm than good? The Guardian has published a number of articles on how Facebook is being used by world leaders in countries like Honduras, Mongolia and Azerbaijan to mislead and manipulate their own citizens. It’s a familiar story from Facebook that gives citizens a voice and silences them.

  • Vacation planning becomes exhausting: My colleague Brian X. Chen has a special pandemic issue on how to use technology to prepare for a trip. You will likely need to navigate your target’s virus testing rules and digital documentation for vaccinations.

Let’s all check out some pretty fish on the kelp forest video feed at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

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