BUSINESS

How Toronto's Chris Cheung got to take the stage at Apple's iPad unveiling

03/10/2012 05:00 EST | Updated 05/09/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - A bewildered roar exploded in the Toronto office of software maker Autodesk this week when Chris Cheung walked onstage at Apple's much-hyped unveiling of the new iPad.

It's no secret that Apple's product launches operate on a strict need-to-know basis, which was why Cheung, a senior product manager with Autodesk, couldn't tell most of his Canadian colleagues that the upcoming SketchBook Ink app would be featured as part of the iPad event.

And although Cheung was invited to perform a live demo of his company's software on the latest iPad, even he wasn't privy to any early details about the new tablet. Not a week, not a day, not an hour, not even a few minutes before the announcement. He was told nothing.

"I was backstage ... and I'm half trying to remember what I'm going to talk about, but half watching what they were announcing," says Cheung.

"I was pretty much in the same boat as you guys, in the sense of learning what they were announcing."

It was a whirlwind week between getting the call from Apple, offering Cheung two minutes to talk about the new app, and the actual presentation itself.

The fact that Cheung and a partner would be conducting their presentation off the newest iPad, which they previously had not touched or seen, actually wasn't the biggest hurdle.

"In this industry I think there's a lot of trying to stay ahead of the curve and trying to make your best guesses," says Cheung, adding that developers were prepared for the new iPad to have Apple's high resolution retina display.

"The good news is we supported retina display on the iPhone before, so it wasn't a big surprise. A lot of our code we already had prepared to be able to run on a future device that could potentially have retina display, so a lot of pieces came together."

The biggest challenge was in fighting nerves and perfecting the delivery of his two-minute script. But he had help with that.

"From my perspective, as a speaker ... getting to see a little bit of how Apple throws an event was definitely quite exciting," Cheung says.

"I obviously had a chance to come down and rehearse, they definitely run a really good program — so I wasn't just pulled off the front seat and asked to speak."

Cheung wouldn't go into much detail about how he was helped to prepare for the presentation, but did say he was pleased that Apple let him do his own thing and encouraged him to tell Autodesk's story.

"I think they really just wanted us to be able to talk about how being on their platform made a difference, as well as showing how we're moving forward," he says, adding that "it kind of gets fuzzy" when trying to recount exactly how many times he practised his presentation.

"They very much were very supportive and allowed our script to come together."

For his big moment on camera, Cheung went for the casual look — which Apple executives usually embrace — and sported an untucked black shirt with jeans.

"There wasn't a dress code ... which is something else that's kinda really neat, everyone was allowed to be themselves," he says.

Not surprisingly, Cheung confesses he had some nerves as he took to the stage.

"I'm not going to lie to you, I personally felt that it was really important for me not to mess up," he says.

"One was because it's really an honour to represent Autodesk onstage, so you don't want to misrepresent the company that you work for. And you know the calibre of the keynotes (is strong) so you want to come in there and bring something to it — versus being the guy that, you know, trips on stage."

To his relief, he pulled off the presentation without a hitch and was able to squeeze everything in within his two minutes.

"I still can't watch myself," he says with a laugh, despite nailing it. "I didn't get yanked off, so that's good."

Once he got off stage, he found his phone exploding with messages of congratulations.

"When I turned my phone back on it was really overwhelming how many people tweeted me or emailed me," he says.

"It just basically reinforces how many people watch (Apple's product announcements), I had friends I hadn't spoken to in years (getting in touch), so that was personally just a really big reminder ... how these events really get in front of a lot of eyes."