Last night, we attended the launch of Windows Phone 8 – the cherry on the top of an image overhaul Microsoft’s been trudging towards for two years. That’s it now; the second coming of Windows is here – desktop, tablet, mobile and games console all singing from the same hymn sheet.
Thing is, as nice as it all is, there’s no escaping the fact that last night caused a lot of confusion. Everyone in the room shared the same odd sense of Déjà vu, stemming from the fact that we were attending the launch for something that’d, well… that had already been launched some months prior.
It’s called the double-launch effect, and it’s a PR’s worst nightmare…
All just a little bit of history repeating
Picture the scene: It’s a crowded room in a London venue. The tech news pack are in attendance, battling for the chairs that roughly number one for every two people. There’s a brief introduction from Leila Martine, Microsoft UK’s Director of Windows Phone, and then we hand over to the screen, which provides a live feed from the US keynote.
But it’s an odd one. ‘Live tiles!’ says Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore. ‘Personalisation!’ It’s the same message we’ve already heard. Around a brief smattering of minor new happenings (the announcement of some big name third party apps and a few hidden tricks up Windows Phone’s sleeves), sat a strangely familiar message.
We were in that room to attend a launch we’d already been to.
The equivalent from Apple would be to host its iPad mini keynote on October 23rd (as it did), and then a second one on the day of launch, some two weeks later. Only it’s not like that, because Microsoft’s initial Windows Phone 8 event wasn’t two weeks ago. It was in June. And there’ve been multiple touch points between then and now for people to see and play with it (including one-on-ones with MS execs and associated handset launches).
Last week we wrote about Apple’s tactic of holding back on info until the last moment, so there’s little need to repeat that sentiment here, but the salient point is that – no matter how secretive you are or aren’t – it’s a very odd move to repeatedly draw attention to the same thing with events similar enough to blur into one.
It’s exactly the same as with Windows 8; Microsoft’s desktop OS has also been the subject of two huge keynotes, both eerily similar. But is Microsoft unique in this double-launch debacle? Hardly. The games industry is rife with this kind of thing, too.
The best (or worst) example is Nintendo, which, somewhat hilariously, managed to launch the Wii U in exactly the same way on two separate occasions, 12 months apart. Ninty’s 2011 and 2012 E3 presentations were essentially the same – perhaps a product of the desperate need to laboriously and repeatedly explain the new console’s many bells and whistles.
But Sony’s just as guilty – seemingly launching, teasing and demoing the PS Vita about four times in more and more monotonous ways and under multiple names before it actually landed on store shelves.
CES, the tech world’s biggest expo that flops out all over Las Vegas every January, is a regular festival of double-launches in the making, too. Companies like Asus and Samsung all reluctantly show up to outdo each other for the sake of showing up and outdoing each other, before going away for a good few months and coming back with the same products at their own keynotes.
Just because it feels good…
But just because everyone does it, doesn’t make it right. See, for each of these examples, there’s been something of a backlash from those in attendance. That backlash can range from the mild – confusion and annoyance at a lack of chairs, as per last night’s WP8 event – to the harsh, as with the critics at E3 who panned Nintendo.
The knock-on effect of an online lambasting can be devastating, too. Nintendo, for instance, felt the brunt of reduced shareholder interest after its weird Matrix-glitch of a keynote.
Thing is, people expect something big to have changed in the interim time, when in reality the second event is merely to celebrate the thing being a real, available thing rather than a glimmer. The double-launch sets up your actual launch-launch to be a disappointment. And what’s funny is that it’s entirely avoidable – if you want everyone to be as excited about a new thing as you are, tell them about it once.
Tell them about it in full, only once, and then let everyone have at it. Don’t buckle to investor pressure and feel forced to show something that’s not ready, and don’t get so caught up in your own excitement that you imagine everyone else will be just as enthused at the second, third or fourth viewing. Because they won’t – they have lives and families and other things to worry about.
The double-launch is a pitfall, and it’s not necessary.
Let’s put it this way: if you put your holiday pictures on Facebook and your friends give them a half-hearted thumbs up, they’re unlikely to want to sit and go through your printed album at any point thereafter.
Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have to figure out what we’re going to wear for the inevitable keynote for the Wii U’s actual launch – during which we’ll likely all sit on uncomfortable chairs and have the things we already know explained to us again at length.