The Problem With Smartphone Launches
Every year, we go through the same ordeal. Rumors and leaks surge just weeks prior to the announcement of a new flagship device. Anticipation and expectations swell. Then the company takes the stage at some high-end venue or even at a massive convention like Mobile World Congress or CES.
From there, it seems, everything begins to take a turn for the worse. Rarely do any smartphone launches go off without a hitch – every manufacturer has issues orchestrating the fine art that is launching a smartphone. And below are some of the larger issues that are becoming synonymous with smartphone launches.
Lack of pricing and availability information
Whether we’re filing into a tiny press room or a large music hall for a phone announcement, we’re expecting several things: specs, the device itself to be shown off, some promotional videos and any other pertinent information on the device(s), such as pricing and availability.
It’s sort of important for consumers to know how much this brand new product will cost, right? It’s kind of important to know where it will be made available, too. Sure, it’s a pretty safe bet that most high-end flagships will launch globally, and importing is (almost) always an option. But’s knowing, for sure, that a phone will launch in your country for a set price could be the difference between a customer waiting for this specific product to launch or caving and buying a similar device they have solid information on.
This is particularly important for U.S.-based consumers, considering LTE support is overcomplicated and two of the four largest wireless providers here still rely on CDMA technology to serve 3G and voice. Unfortunately, many mobile companies have succumbed to announcing products with no official availability or pricing. Company execs file on stage, one by one, to go over the greatest aspects of a phone. They gloss over availability (i.e.: “it will be available sometime in Q2”) and completely skip the all-too-important price point.
Most of the time, it feels more like a move to further entice audience and steal their attention from the competition than actually selling them on the device itself.
Supply shortages and crashing servers
Smartphones and mobile technology have become exponentially more popular over the years. This is evidenced by the half-million people who tuned in for the live stream of the Galaxy S 4 announcement, the fact that smartphone penetration here in the U.S. surpassed 50 percent in 2012 and the fact that global smartphone adoption is expected to hit two billion as soon as 2015.
Demand for high-end smartphones is as high as its ever been, and it’s growing by the moment.
Another indication of this is constant supply shortages. For years now, Apple has struggled to meet demand with both its iPad and iPhone models. They sell out of initial stock within hours, worldwide, and supply slowly trickles in over the following months.
But now we’re seeing this high demand hit other manufacturers. LG, for instance, struggled to keep up with Nexus 4 demand, suffering a two-month dry spell in the Google Play store. And Google even has trouble serving all its customers without catastrophic failure. Its servers were slammed hard after the initial Nexus 4 launch, and customers were hit with exceptionally long wait times, sometimes to find that the product was sold out after having it in their cart for upwards of 45 minutes.
As more consumers become interested in the mobile market and, likewise, interested in being among the first in line to get a new phone, issues surrounding exceptional demand – which is a great problem to have, I suppose – will continue.
Post-announcement product delays
Speaking of supply shortages, HTC is allegedly feeling the pressure from some of its component suppliers. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that due to frequent and drastic changes to orders in the past have negatively affected HTC’s status with said suppliers, dropping the company to a second-class customer.
Either way, the HTC One is facing delays, although HTC says these setbacks won’t affect the U.S. launch.
The Nexus 4, as previously explained, also faced supply shortages, wherein Google and LG faced a two-month delay on restocking the device in Google Play.
One of the most notable delays that comes to mind is from Motorola. The DROID BIONIC. Originally unveiled at CES 2011, the BIONIC was set to launch sometime in Q2 2011. But it was delayed countless times and finally launched in early September 2011, only after every last ounce of hype had fizzled.
More about appearances than the devices
It’s crazy to think that we all play such a major part in a company’s launch process. But the media offers free advertising to these companies. And the more hype that is generated prior to an announcement, during an announcement and leading up to the actual launch of the device can be a make-or-break in terms of success.
Unfortunately, this has resulted in product announcements being more about gimmicky features that “hook” the audience than the device itself.
Take Samsung’s Galaxy S 4 event last week, for example. We all were ready to learn about the newest Galaxy S phone, what it had under the hood, how it would differ from the last, what makes it better than everything else on the horizon. Instead, Samsung put on what we can only imagine was a multi-million dollar production to show off some eye-catching, subtle features that we all will forget about hours after getting the device.
Samsung didn’t sell us on the phone … at all. It mildly entertained some of us, sort of confused others and made the rest of the viewers cringe at all the cheese. Important specifications weren’t dropped. Few were actually convinced that the Galaxy S 4 is the phone to get, and more were left thinking, “Wow, should I get this, stick with what I’ve got or get the HTC One?” The event came off as more of a way for Samsung to flaunt its money and success than a coherent sales pitch for the Galaxy S 4.
Sadly, this is the route that more manufacturers are taking, and it’s not specific to mobile. Remember the Sony PS4 event?
No one company is immune
Product delays, shipment issues, lack of details and no official pricing are among some of the more common problems that begin as soon as the announcement event is over. But problems spread far and wide and no company is immune to the array of things that can go wrong.
Apple, for instance, has most of the launch and announcement process down to an art. They bring some execs out on stage, recap the year and its successes, show off some new features, bring out a new product, detail it coherently, announce a launch plan and give firm dates and pricing. Every last detail seems to be in place and everything seems to be accounted for.
But does anyone remember the white iPhone 4 debacle? I worked in wireless retail at the time, and we had dozens irate customers who had pre-ordered the white model of the iPhone 4. It didn’t officially launch until months after the black model. And Apple can never manufacture enough iPhones or iPads in advance to meet demand. Wanting customers are forced to fight their way to the front of a line, wait outside for days in advance or wait for weeks – possibly months – for the product to come back in stock.
And Apple was blindsided by an entirely different issue with the iPhone 5. Quality control. Thousands upon thousands of iPhones with factory-made blemishes shipped out to customers on launch day.
Even the infallible Apple falls victim to some of the worst smartphone launch problems.