Interacting with, and even covering, the mobile industry has been anything but normal over the past seven months.
Since Covid-19 (coronavirus) lockdowns hit in March, the majority of smartphone players have been forced to hold their traditionally flashy product unveilings as online-only events, while trade shows have mainly been pushed to virtual formats if not cancelled altogether.
Us journalists, meanwhile, have been consigned to platforms like Zoom to hold interviews on our stuttering home Wi-Fi networks.
So, I must admit, when an email dropped into my inbox with an invitation to a “Drive Thru” press event, I was intrigued.
Following Huawei’s launch of its latest Mate 40 series smartphone last week, the company decided to pull the trigger and invite UK media to “the world’s first drive-in press conference”, giving those interested the chance to get hands on with the Pro version, and get a glimpse of its latest audio and wearable products
Collected from my home by a “luxury anti-Covid cocoon” (a BMW), equipped with a complimentary face mask and hand gel, I was driven across town to Printworks, a multipurpose venue used for music, arts and culture shows.
There, a handful of the event’s organisers and Huawei executives were waiting. As we approached, the instructions were clear.
We were not to leave the vehicle during the entire “event”, unless there was an emergency, and the rear window was to be kept rolled down, so we could take in the “experience”.
And I must say, the entire experience was surreal.
The Covid-era press event
Armed with the Mate 40 Pro and a set of Huawei’s over ear FreeBuds Studio headphones (sterilised of course), my driver and two other vehicles behind us, entered the venue.
As you can see from the image above, the space was lit with vivid colours; and empty aside from the presenter, an actor and the three vehicles.
The lighting was deliberate, intended to ensure we were able to put the camera system “through its paces” and see exactly what it was capable of.
So, for the next half an hour, I effectively became amateur cameraman and film producer, as the company put the emphasis on using the device for moviemaking.
The actor hired by the company took centre stage to play out clips from the film Blade Runner, and I was instructed to film his movements, using different features.
In the first “scene”, I used the device’s High Dynamic Range (HDR) feature, made to cope with dim light and the vivid colours in the background.
The second demo showed off the device’s story creator mode, effectively splitting the actor’s movements into separate clips, helping those making short films to put together their masterpieces.
Finally, I used the tracking shot feature (the most impressive of the three in my opinion), enabling the user to follow the movements and keep focus on the actor without moving the camera.
Lastly, it was time to test out the new headphones.
As we were sat inside what looked like a low rent disco, we were invited to press play on a techno playlist and activate the device’s very impressive noise cancelling feature.
Huawei’s UK commitment
Of course no press event, no matter how strange, is complete without a presentation, even if was only for the benefit of three of us.
And while the “Drive Thru” element could be considered a gimmick, Huawei had a clear message to communicate.
Winston Eavis, marketing director for UK and Ireland took to the stage to reiterate the company’s commitment to the market, despite being hit with a 5G network ban, was stronger than ever.
He revealed it had a total of 5 million customers in the UK and any suggestion it would be scaling back due to geo-political pressures were dismissed, with plans to open three retail stores by 2021.
With that message, I was driven out of the venue and taken back home.
In total, I was in the anti-Covid cocoon for four hours.
And while this format is perhaps not sustainable as a long-term event strategy, Huawei deserves credit for providing an innovative way to hold a physical show in the middle of a global pandemic.
I’ve been to many events over the past ten years: I can safely (in more ways than one) say I’ll never forget this one.
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.Subscribe to our daily newsletter Back