Jun 12

The joy of demo crashes

In a world where competition is often seen as combat, there’s nothing more delightful than watching the other guy squirm.

This video is a good example. Microsoft Windows president Steve Sinofsky’s mid-demo crash of the Surface tablet during the “big unveil” last week now has garnered 3 million views in a week. That’s over three times as many hits as the presentation itself — and over twice as many as Steve Jobs’ iPad 2 presentation has accumulated in over a year.

Good moments just don’t attract a crowd like good moments gone bad. But then Sinofsky added to the allure with his own little bit of performance art. Note how he does a little bunny-hop to the back of the stage to pick up a backup unit — almost as if no one would notice.

Of course no one is immune to demo crashes. They’re a part of life in the technology biz. Steve Jobs certainly endured more than one technology failure, as you can see in this 11-minute collection. There’s a famous one at the 1:10 mark, where Steve can’t get the camera working and literally throws it to an Apple person in the first row of the audience. (The odds on that guy keeping his job didn’t look good.)

It’s how one handles a crash that separates the men from the boys. Steve Jobs’ style was such that he didn’t normally try to hide things. More often than not, he’d acknowledge the issue and move on. This Microsoft moment probably could have used a touch of honesty.

Even though Steve was a fierce competitor, he actually drew the line at taking advantage of competitors’ demo woes. I remember one time during the “think different” years when Bill Gates suffered a terrible failure demoing a new Microsoft technology. We at the agency thought it would make a very funny commercial for Apple. It seemed like an idea being handed to us on a silver platter. We would simply show Gates failing and end the ad with a clever line about Apple.

Steve laughed — but he rejected it immediately. He said that demo crashes are an unavoidable part of the business, and that his own demos could fail as easily as Gates’. He didn’t want to taunt Gates for something that was beyond his control. (He was, however, eager to taunt the man for all the things he did on purpose.)

But times have changed. Companies don’t have to worry so much about being embarrassed by their competitors on TV. Thanks to YouTube, they can do a pretty good job of embarrassing themselves.

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  • chris

    The link to the demo-crash collection doesn’t work …

  • Dmitri Bilgere

    Of all the things people have criticized the Surface event about, I think the demo crash is the weakest. As you (and Steve!) said, it can happen to anyone. And it IS still in beta. Or alpha. Pre-alpha? We don’t know, but not in a “ready for prime time” state.

    And I think that, in itself — that the Surface isn’t ready for prime time — is the biggest story here. It seems disingenuous for MS to trot out the surface when it is SO not finished, and there is SO LITTLE that reviewers can actually touch or do with it.

    As you’ve often pointed out, Ken, we trust (or distrust) companies based largely on their level of authenticity. Apple keynotes generally seem very authentic. This MS keynote seemed like a “move” in a bigger game, probably to pre-empt Google I/O. But you wouldn’t have to know about I/O coming up to get that there was something wrong, something inauthentic about showing off Surface while it’s still so dysfunctional.

    The demo crash just sort of summed up that perception, I think. But even if that crash hadn’t happened, the perception of inauthenticity would still have been there.

  • ksegall

    Sorry. Fixed!

  • ksegall

    Agree completely.

  • Why have all the presenters got those wires coming from their ears like the secret service? Is it to prompt them for their lines in case they forget what Steve would have said?

  • Jurassic

    There were two new computer product introductions made in the past few weeks. One was made by Microsoft (the Surface), and the other by Apple (MacBook Pro Retina). It is interesting to see the differences when comparing one to the other.

    Microsoft: No prices given
    Apple: $2,199. 

    Microsoft: No dates given. RT model sometime before the end of the year (6 months or more). Pro model sometime in the first quarter of 2013 (9 months or more)
    Apple: For sale immediately

    Microsoft: No information given on expected battery life.
    Apple: Up to 7 hours battery life using wireless web. Up to 30 days standby time.

    Microsoft: No one from the press allowed to use or test any of the new products.
    Apple: Many display units available for attendees to try out. Multiple units sent to the media for testing.

    Comparing these two new product presentations, you really have to wonder which of the two companies was attempting to use a “Reality Distortion Field”.

  • Mike Evangelist

    “Steve can’t get the camera working and literally throws it to an Apple person in the first row of the audience. (The odds on that guy keeping his job didn’t look good.)”

    That ‘guy’ was Ken Bereskin, who definitely survived the incident. He ran OS X product marketing at Apple up through 2009. (a great guy, btw.)

  • ksegall

    Hi Mike,
    I knew he wasn’t actually fired, but never did know his name. Thanks for adding the missing details.

  • I was at that keynote. He didn’t throw the camera in anger. He just tossed it to the guy (Bereskin) to see if he could get it to work. As can be seen in the video. Turned out it was a flat battery. They charged it and did the demo towards the end of the keynote.

  • ksegall

    Yep, I was there too. Agreed, Steve didn’t toss the camera in anger. He would never lose his cool quite so publicly. But then he certainly didn’t toss it because he was a happy camper either. Since he’d never really done anything like that before, it was somewhat natural for casual observers to read more into it.

  • In the last line I he said, ” .. no banding or letter boxing you traditionally SHIT see,”

    That sums up what happened.

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  • Crystal_Palace

    Looked bad worst I ever saw jobs – it was as if he was mad at Berskin – because the camera demo had gone array – and he throws at Bersking- talks to him as if he is not doing well in job performance reviews as if he bearskin is on the shit list – and is derogatory toward him in public on stage outside the office. = Mr jobs was wrong and made himself look bad