If you woke up this morning wondering why Samsung is being berated on social media less than 24 hours after announcing its latest flagship phone, might I point you here and here, where you can read of the magical night at Radio City Music Hall when Samsung paid Broadway actors to play out scenes using the new phone for two hours.
In a word, it was surreal.
But that seems to be the norm these days with CE launches. I can’t think of a single product launch that has left me thinking: “what a great product.” Instead I’m left thinking about how long and torturous the presentation was.
Tolerating the presentation long enough to begin loving the product has become a growing obstacle for the tech press, and it’s something marketers are trying desperately to solve.
HTC and BlackBerry annoy us because they bring exec after exec on-stage for hours to demo a phone whose features we could understand in about 20 minutes, sometimes electing celebrities to do their bidding. We’re annoyed with Qualcomm at CES for going way off the hinges trying to make mobile processors look like the priority of every teenager’s life. Sony, I can’t even talk about, after they made us sit through two full hours of game demos without ever letting us see the next PlayStation.
Who’s idea was that? Seriously?
With Samsung’s presentation last night, the company managed to roll all of the worst gimmicks in product announcements into one, long, wacky show. Even the Galaxy S 4, Samsung’s beast and the latest generation of the top-selling Galaxy S line, couldn’t make it through the announcement phase without looking like a tween being dropped off at school by over-protective, off-their-rocker parents.
Has there ever been a good product launch? Has a company ever found a way to make the device loveable, important, and must-have without letting their marketing spunk dirty up the whole show? And if so, what does it look like, this flawless CE debut?
I can only think of one product launch that left myself, and the tech press, with a good taste in their mouth. It will enrage the flame-throwing phandroids, but the truth often does, so oh well.
Apple’s announcement of the iPhone, and maybe the iPad, was the first and possibly only time that a product has overshadowed the event. This is not a hat-tip to Apple’s marketing, who still managed to throw in a little gimmick in the form of a stage concert with John Mayer.
(To be fair, a concert with a famous musician is almost always better than seeing Big Bird or watching a dance number from unknown Broadway actresses, which is why Apple closes most events with a concert. Even if you don’t like the band, it’s hard to hate a company for giving you a free concert.)
But the concert, remember, has nothing to do with the success of the iPhone launch or the failure of Samsung and other CE OEMs who can’t seem to launch a product without a little song and dance. The reason the iPhone launch kicked everyone in the ass was because it was the iPhone. It was mysterious. At the height of the iPod’s popularity, we knew something big was coming, and had no idea what it might be.
Steve Jobs was a great presenter, and he really wound up the crowd talking about clunky keyboards getting in the way, and the combination of three major products into one. But if the iPhone, hypothetically, wasn’t a godsend of a device that could give us legible internet direct from our pockets, the launch would have been much like any other preposterous presentation we’ve seen in the past five years.
The iPhone announcement was 10 percent heightened expectation, 10 percent Steve Jobs’ enthusiasm, and 80 percent device. Last night, Samsung’s announcement was 80 percent song and dance, and 20 percent device.
To be clear, Samsung ain’t no dummy. Last night’s show was a clusterfuck on purpose. Radio City Music Hall was packed, not only with tech media (who are usually the only ones allowed to these things) but full of regular consumers, who bought tickets to the show. Furthermore, the Galaxy S 4 leaked like a broken faucet before the launch, and Samsung is fine with that. These leaks are highly controlled, as is the entry of regular people to the launch event, and it only heightens the hype of the product.
It all comes back to hype. And expectations.
The iPhone announcement was great because it managed our expectations perfectly. There was very little glitz and glam, but there was the promise of a product that would solve a lot of problems.
The Galaxy S 4, while an incredible phone, really only solves first world problems. Not important problems.
The specs are great, and Samsung impressively managed to fit better components into a smaller package. However, it’s hard to brag about that when every competing OEM is making their phones smaller, lighter, thinner.
Samsung could, and did, talk about the Air View feature, which lets you preview more information by hovering over an email subject line or photo gallery. Unfortunately, only about six seconds of the hour-long presentation was devoted to this one, useful feature.
The rest of the event was sprinkled with skits about Group Play (letting you play one song from multiple connected devices) and Dual Cam (which lets you use both cameras at the same time). They’re “cool” but do any of these features solve problems the way that the original iPhone solved problems? Do they bring new information into your mobile world? Tell you how to get from point A to point B when you’re lost? Do they bring the internet to your hand in a profoundly simple way for the first time?
The Galaxy S 4 is great, but the Galaxy S 4 isn’t a savior to our every woe. Most of the upgrades in the Galaxy S 4 are either standard spec bumps (like the quad-core processor and beautiful screen) or intense software features. Where specs are concerned, Samsung actually has a great selling point. Galaxy S III owners will likely yearn for that even better display, the tighter build, and that upgraded camera. Those who struggle with lag or freezes will wish on stars for that quad-core (or eight-core) processor.
But I can’t imagine many people who will yearn for Air Gesture, or Smart Scroll, or Smart Pause, or Group Play, and I can probably continue on if any of these software features had made a real impression on my brain. Yet, all I can remember is that little boy doing a tap dance routine and that one actress toward the end who was playing a lush. Galaxy S III owners who are longing for these software features can breathe easy, however, as they’ll also get these upgrades.
Samsung had to throw in some flash and pop to manage our expectations. The Galaxy S 4 is an amazing phone but it isn’t the salvation to your every problem, and Samsung knows this. In fact, they know it so well that they had to use actors and an expensive set to show how the GS4 might actually solve your pain points. Just telling us in a press release and via YouTube wouldn’t have been enough.
The point isn’t whether or not the S 4 is a good phone, but whether or not a great product announcement even exists anymore? The 2012 iPhone 5 announcement was a snooze fest, and so was the iPad mini announcement. In fact, Apple’s lost momentum with each announcement since the original iPhone.
And that’s not about companies, that’s about devices.
Though the show is a viral success today, no one will remember the weird announcement or broadway show when the company announces availability. They’ll simply have this impression, as if direct from a dream, that this phone is a big deal. And that all comes back to Samsung’s big show.
I urge CE companies to start thinking about how their particular product will change the way someone lives. If the product does, in fact, have life-changing capabilities, then the pony show becomes unnecessary.