Less than 12-hours ago, Samsung "launched" it's new Galaxy S20 series at a special Unpacked event in San Francisco, California. I use inverted commas here because, actually, nothing was really unpacked at all. With so much leakage before the show, the launch event felt like a complete waste of time.
Leaks are inevitable in this industry. Excited consumers and eager journalists are not only the ones who suffer from the leak-cycle that precedes a new product launch, we are also the cause. I personally take most leaks with a pinch of salt. If there is a product I am excited about (but not writing about) I will generally read the headline but not dig too deep. I like waiting for the real launch and getting my anticipation and excitement in one, pint-sized gulp of information.
With Samsung's Unpacked Event for 2020, however, where we saw the S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra debut, that approach was impossible to adopt. All three devices, specs, images, hands-on videos, and the rest of it, were online well before last night. Nothing was unpacked. Nothing was revealed.
We are now living in an age of perpetual announcements, leaks, and teasers, and from where I am standing, the result is not increased hype, as the manufacturers would like to achieve, it's reduced appetite for actual product launches. I am sure I am not alone in feeling the Galaxy Unpacked event for 2020 was met with a big fat 'meh', and that's from those who even bothered to watch it.
What's the point of launch events anymore?
The annual launch show is becoming more and more of a non-event. When I first started working at AP, these launch events - which almost always take place in the US and require us to work late - were exciting for the Editorial team. We get the live stream up in the office, order pizza, and settle in to write about what was revealed. Last night, no such thing was necessary.
Forget that fact that media and journalists are often shown upcoming devices behind closed doors ahead of the launch, because it wasn't only the press and social media influencers who knew all there was to know about the S20 lineup ahead of time this year - absolutely everyone did. We have written before about how the business of leaks is a bitter yet addictive pill to swallow, but the Samsung Unpacked event this year has gone beyond a few blurry images and specs sheets slipping through the net.
It begs the question of what's the point in even having a launch event anymore? It's not for the media, who are already so burned out from writing about what you are launching for the past six months that it's not really new or exciting for them anymore. It's not for the consumers, who have already seen the new products, probably in both photo and video form, have read all about them and know all about the new features and innovations. I honestly don't know how the likes of Roh Tae-moon, DJ Koh, and Richard Yu keep a straight face when they pull the latest flagship out of their pockets on stage and hold it up for all to see. We know, lads, we've all seen it!
The crazy part for tech journalists is that we'll often go to pre-launch events, see the new products, and sign non-disclosure agreements. This is normal practice, it means we can work on our articles and have our opinions ready for the big launch having constructed them on real experience of the products. The problem here is that because of the NDA, we're often the only ones not talking about the new gear. Roland Quant, as much as we love him, had his hands-on video for the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ online on February 8 - a full three days before the launch event.
Whilst social media runs riot, the media is often contractually obliged to keep shtum. Even Samsung itself was running ads for its Galaxy Z Flip during the Oscars, days before it had even officially announced the foldable smartphone. I mean, come on, at least pretend you still care about your big launch event.
When my colleague Julia wrote about leaks last week, Fabian Nappenbach, Director Product Marketing at HTC, commented that (translated from German):
"The manufacturers do this [leak products] intentionally, uh... no. Then they would be incredibly stupid. You may throw in "teasers" yourself, but a leak, as the name suggests, is a leak. There is something dripping out of the bucket that should actually stay inside so that you can effectively tip the bucket out in one go at the official unveiling. This costs [HTC] money and it's unfair to the journalists who do the work to come to pre-briefings."
Nappenbach also stated that leakers are not heroes, "not Robin Hoods but simply thieves - they steal information that doesn't belong to them and sell it for money".
So if we take the HTC director's word for it, leaks are the result of incompetence and thievery and not marketing strategy. That's even more staggering to me.
Only Apple knows how to do blockbuster reveals now
The one exception to this trend seems to be Apple. I'm not for one second suggesting that Apple's R&D department is some kind of Area 51 where nothing slips out, but at least the keynote events still come with a certain level of anticipation from the public.
It was back in 2017 that a leaked memo (the irony!) suggested that Apple was 'cracking down on leaks' and had caught 27 of the mischievous little scamps, but the Cupertino company is not immune to the problem completely. As I write this, leaks are pouring in about the iPhone SE2, or the iPhone 9, depending on which rumors you want to believe. But at least with Apple it's largely just talk and speculation. You are not going to see a hands-on video of the actual new iPhone on YouTube a week before it's on stage at the Steve Jobs theater.
The next iPhone event in September will still draw a crowd. I'll still be watching with anticipation, I hope. Apple remains the last manufacturer standing, in my opinion, for whom these big launch events make sense. For the rest of them, the room is often full of guests who are just there for the free sandwiches.
I've no idea how much Samsung spends on an event like Unpacked, but to me, it feels like every dollar was wasted this year. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.