The Consumer Electronics Show is a pressure-cooker, no doubt about it.
It covers almost every consumer product with any kind of digital enhancement, so even consumers who don't pay attention to IT trade shows pay attention to news from this one.
CES is the first big IT show of the year, so there's a lot of emphasis on introducing the new stuff, even if it won't actually be ready to ship until much later in the year.
And it comes during the often news-starved fortnight in early January when everyone is just recovering from the hype and frenzy of the holidays and is trying to get started on the first big projects of the year.
The result is that the whole overcrowded, overhyped show is so heavily publicized, video-cam'd and YouTubed that every minor slipup is documented and rebroadcast in a dozen languages.
Most of the most-detailed analyses typically come from geeks with a lot of experience dealing with both technology product announcements and the vendors that make them.
So they will begin with the assumption that the technology being discussed either will not work as advertised even if it functions perfectly or that, if it does work as advertised, will not work in a way that makes the technology problems of their customers any easier to solve.
Experienced IT people, with the possible exception of veterans of long experience in the NYPD or any long-term Mideast peace negotiations, are the most deservedly skeptical people on Earth.
They are constantly being promised real magic before being handed an undernourished rabbit and the hat in which it was concealed until it had that little accident on stage in Reno.
Intel goes Milli Vanilli under demo pressure at CES
If you're a major vendor at CES – Microsoft, HP, Dell, Apple – a product or product roadmap revealed at CES may become a set of milestones setting technology expectations for the year for all the products that depend on that single major announcement.
That's more true of Intel than probably any other company at CES; Intel processor architectures, CPUs, chipsets, motherboards, memory and other components show up in so many other products in so many types of digitized device that a big revelation at CES can shift progress in the whole x86-based computing market for the year.
Intel execs certainly realize that. They surely know everything they say in public will be parsed and analyzed and misconstrued and reconstrued and used as a catalyst to see what changes will ripple through the industry from Intel's latest set of plans.
Intel execs couldn't imagine they could do a demo of major features in a whole new segment of the laptop market, using a new version of a fairly new processor, without having both the audio and video recorded, analyzed and discussed in detail enough to nauseate even the most dedicated processor geek.
Given that environment – and I'm just asking because I'm curious whether mine is an unusual reaction – is there anything that could persuade you to get up in front of that audience and pretend to run a live demo while actually playing a video?
That appears to be what Intel did yesterday, demonstrating the IvyBridge microarchitecture with integrated graphics processing running in ultrabooks – ultralight, highly portable laptops that can still run high-end graphics.
Yesterday afternoon, Intel held a press conference at which it tried to show off a "live" demo of an F1 auto-racing game running on an ultrabook running IvyBridge and Microsoft's newest DirectX 11.
"If you look closely, you'll see it's a video playback of the game rather than live gameplay," according to Nick Barber, the IDG News Service reporter who called Intel on the gaffe.
ExtremeTech said the fakery casts "another shadow over Intel's ability to craft a decent integrated GPU," and suggested the IvyBridge ultrabooks may not be powerful enough to run demanding 3D video like that in the F1 2011 game it pretended to demo.
Mooly Eden, the VP of Intel's PC client group got behind a steering wheel video controller to add verisimilitude, but never mentioned the demo was actually pre-recorded. Neither did anyone else from Intel. So Eden's effort with the steering wheel were misleading, but otherwise pointless.
So? I'd rather watch a good video than a bad demo
I realize there's nothing that would persuade many people to try a live demo of cutting edge technology on stage. There are too many legendary demo failures that were embarrassing because they failed but became icons of irony for the way they failed.
- While demonstrating Plug and Play for Windows 98 on stage at Comdex '98 (and on live TV), Bill Gates got to experience the Blue Screen of Death that was the bane of Windows customers. It delayed the demo but didn't kill the show, or the product.
- Windows 7 had a similar problem with the touchscreen capability on a live Japanese news show in 2009.
- As Steve Jobs tried to demo the miraculous new iPhone 4's connectivity, the WiFi failed on stage; twice. It wasn't the first time Jobs, known as a demo god for his stage presence and ability to fix balky presentations, ran into a glitch or two during demos. The iPhone 4 survived.
All were higher-profile failures far more indicative of weakness than Intel's because they highlighted problems the products had at demo time and continued to have long after going into production.
All went into production needing to prove themselves against a barrier of customer skepticism much steeper than before the public failure.
Never follow children, animals or use a computer on stage
"Live demo" is the ticking time bomb in any vendor-marketing team's life.
If it works and the tech is actually impressive, there is nothing that shows a new technology's advantages than a demo choreographed to do exactly that. So there is a lot of pressure from internal champions (who want to prove to their bosses the project hasn't been a waste of money) to run the real thing.
There is just as much pressure from the PR staff, event-production specialists and performance-development consultants (producers and directors with either aspirations to or experience in actual live theater) for a demo will perform as it's told, just as the human performers are supposed to do.
A performance that is a thrilling whirlwind – one that captures the audience's imagination and sends them off to fantasy worlds in which they can spend budgets they don't have on technology that does not yet exist – will come to a sudden, coma-inducing stop if the demo crashes.
For marketers and staging specialists, a crashed demo means losing the imagination of the audience and, more importantly, their next contract with that vendor.
For product champions a failed demo means public ridicule from outside the company and twice or three times as much pressure from their own bosses to get the tech to perform even better than expected, ship exactly on time and cost less than it possibly could.
Blowing a high-profile demo in a high-profile event can kill a product all by itself. Usually it just kills all the product's second chances, making any delay or mistake later in the production process fatal rather than inconvenient.
Every new technology comes with a quota second chances, because it is new. Everyone knows new things have to be tweaked to get them to work right.
A new product can ship late, cost more than predicted, ship without key features, or even ship with one faulty component that has to be replaced almost immediately.
Products that have all those problems will either be killed or get a new project manager before they ship.
Products that fail spectacularly in most-visible venue they could possibly find – under conditions that must be presumed to be absolutely ideal to make that product work, ensuring it never would in a customer's less perfect environment – those products are already hanging by a thread. One more real problem could cut the string.
Lying works, especially in trying to sell new tech; unless you get caught
There are a lot of good reasons to run video rather than a demo.
There are more serious ones to not do it, especially if you decide not to tell anyone.
Do you remember her for anything else?
You won't forget Intel, but running a video of a demo instead of a live one won't increase the level of trust in Intel or Ivy Bridge.
Intel should know that. Any vendor would. Running a video, even if you tell the audience what you're doing, but especially when you don't, makes people believe that even the manufacturer doesn't believe in its own product.
It makes them think you're so much farther behind in your production schedule than you've said that they can no longer count on you delivering the functions they were waiting for.
Since they usually can't wait, they will go look for alternatives more likely to ship on time, with the features they want, working correctly in real life rather than on video.
Technically and in the process of disseminating marketing data about the product, Intel didn't cause any real damage to Ivy Bridge in the video demo.
In the far more important criteria of credibility and predictability, Intel did tremendous damage to both Ivy Bridge and ultrabooks.
An impressive live demo might not convince anyone a product is definitely worth buying.
A failed demo might not convince them it's not worth buying.
A faked video leaves them with no idea of whether the product works, works as advertised, will ship when it should, or if it even exists.
There's no better way to collapse a sand castle than to slosh water along the base until the sand underneath collapses and takes the castle with it.
Credibility – for journalists, analysts or technologists – is exactly as fragile.
I doubt Intel expected to go to the Las Vegas desert to find waves washing away the base of credibility on which all the market expectations for Ivy Bridge are built, but that's exactly what it found.
It's just unfortunate the wave that did the most damage came out of a bucket labeled "Intel."
Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.