Excessive Lag Time Between Device Announcement and Release is Killing Excitement
We’ve talked at length about how overhyping a product can create unreachable expectations, and it goes without saying that a complete lack of hype can be just as disastrous. However, neither is as damaging as hyping up a product and then letting that excitement die off before launch.
People can’t maintain excitement about a product that they were once interested in 3 months ago but which faded out of their consciousness. They’re going to look towards the next product. This year’s Mobile World Congress has been a shining example of this, with the lack of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 taking center stage.
The time span between announcement and release can be absolutely deadly for any groundswell that a device has been building. With official specifications out but no devices in people’s hands to test, there is no new information coming out about these devices. Nothing for people to talk about. The time window between announcement and release is a brick wall of silence that every day slowly destroys all the buzz that the pre-announcement rumors and the announcement press releases were building.
Delayed Releases Kill Excitement, and Nearly Every OEM is Guilty of It
The Lenovo Moto Z, Moto Z Force, and Moto Z Play ran into substantial issues with lag time last year. The Moto Z line were some absolutely fantastic phones (they were some of my favorite phones for the year) with great battery life, solid performance, and a nice camera at an attractive price, but they announced the devices in June and didn’t start selling them until September (except for on Verizon where the regular and Force models shipped at the end of July, which was still almost two months after the initial announcement).
That’s three months of lag time for most markets, and as a result everyone forgot about it by the time they could actually purchase it. I didn’t even see a working Moto Z in person until 2017, and I go out of my way to test out every device that I can, even going into phone stores to just play around with new devices on occasion. As a result, a phone that should have been a contender for the best smartphone of 2016 barely sold 1 million devices globally last year… across three separate models targeting a range of price points.
That lag time between announcement and release is even worse when you are releasing with older hardware, like the HTC Bolt did last year, and the HTC U Ultra and HTC U Play are doing this year. HTC announced the U Ultra with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 (which wasn’t even that old when the HTC U Ultra was originally announced, although it is a revision of the older Snapdragon 820) right after the Snapdragon 835 was announced, and that has resulted in a complete lack of attention for the HTC U Ultra.
This is despite it arguably looking like an extremely nice device with a solid UX (barring prospective battery life issues). Our only two articles about the HTC U series for the two months between the announcement and launch were an article about AI in smartphones in which the HTC U’s Sense Companion is mentioned, and an article about how HTC plans to only release 6 or 7 phones this year.
That’s two full months of us paying almost no attention to it, though not because we don’t want to (in fact, you’ll be seeing some content on it on XDA TV very soon, starting with our unboxing and hands on video). Two months of the industry ignoring it, as other publications are also displaying a similar pattern for the HTC U series. Two months of people forgetting that it even exists (let alone whether or not they were interested in buying it) in communities like our XDA forums, Reddit, or various other Android boards.
Meanwhile, the soon to-be-announced Samsung Galaxy S8 has more than a dozen pre-release articles on our site, and countless numbers of leaks, predictions, editorials and discussions all over to keep enthusiasm going.
“That is a massive gap in how much attention the devices are getting, and much of it simply comes down to how the releases are handled.”
This gets even worse with the LG G6, which is releasing even closer to the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the general availability of devices with chips based on a 10 nm process; the Snapdragon 835, the Exynos 8895, and the Helio X30. Yes, the LG G6 looks like a very solid improvement over the LG G5 in some ways, but it will get just one month as king of the hill at best (if it even manages to beat the Samsung Galaxy S7) before the S8 surpasses it and sucks up all the oxygen in the room. And it is not just because of the processor, either.
The LG G6 has issues with using old components throughout its design. Yes, the Sony Exmor RS IMX258 is definitely a solid improvement over the Sony Exmor RS IMX268 wide angle camera in the LG G5 (and over the Exmor R IMX219 found in the LG V20) thanks to an increase in sensor size from 4.983 mm (Type 1/3.61) to 5.867 mm (Type 1/3.06), an increase in resolution from ~8 MP to ~13 MP while maintaining the same 1.12 μm pixel size, the ability to output at higher resolution videos at higher frame rates, the addition of Phase Detection autofocus (which can result in impressive usability improvements), and various other smaller changes (albeit not all of which were positive, such as the removal of OIS and the narrower field of view).
On the other hand, the IMX258 seems like a step back from the IMX234 that was used for the LG G5’s main camera with the drop from a 6.8 mm sensor to a 5.9 mm sensor, a resolution drop from ~16 MP to ~13 MP while maintaining the same pixel size, and a loss of laser autofocus (although not everything is negative, with the addition of PDAF being a nice touch). One thing that is interesting to note is that while the IMX258 and the IMX234 both released in 2015, the IMX258 has seen extensive use in midrange and entry level devices like the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4X, the Sony Xperia XA, and the Meizu M3E, whereas the IMX234 has primarily seen use in higher end phones like the LG G4/G5/V10 and the ZTE Nubia Z9 series.
LG has done some great things with their software to mitigate the hardware shortcoming of their sensor choice, but it really leaves you wondering what they could have done with a slightly better sensor and that same great software work. The extra features that they are missing out on like Dual Pixel PDAF, HDR video, higher frame rates, and other small improvements can quickly add up to create substantial usability differences.Without having seen the LG G6 in person myself (our review of it is being handled by other members of our team), it almost seems like a sidegrade from the LG G5, rather than an upgrade. And that doesn’t even get into how some of the design choices made for the LG G6 are not clear improvements anyway. Yes, the larger battery is quite nice, but making it non-removable will certainly turn some people off of the LG G6, which looks to face a repairability hell.
“… [the LG G6] almost seems like a sidegrade from the LG G5, rather than an upgrade.”
It’s not just the cameras and the processor either. The use of a mix of Gorilla Glass 3, 4, and 5 is quite strange, the lack of Qi fast charging (on the model that has Qi charging) is frustrating, the use of USB 2.0 when competitors are going with 3.1 will impose limitations on the LG G6 (both in terms of USB Alt Mode compatibility and transfer speed), and the lack of Quick Charge 4.0 is bad news for the LG G6’s charger compatibility (although it can be explained due to difficulties in implementing QC 4.0 with a Snapdragon 821 chipset). The choices for the LG G6 are made only stranger when considering the substantial costs associated with device design, production ramp up times, and inventory management (especially if LG intends to introduce another flagship in a couple months with a Snapdragon 835 or equivalent processor), but I digress.
The Sony Xperia XZ Premium continues the trend of confusing decisions, and makes some of LG’s decisions seem even stranger. Rumors had abounded that LG and HTC (and Sony with the Xperia XZs) had decided to release their flagships slightly early with the Snapdragon 820/821 because Samsung had supposedly bought up the entire initial supply of Snapdragon 835 processors. But if Sony’s target release dates are to be believed, then either Sony seems to have found a way in on the first batch as well, or the time gap between the Samsung exclusive batch and general availability is shorter than expected.
Sony has stated that they are expecting to launch the XZ Premium in “Late Spring”, which could be as early as May. Thanks to Sony’s February announcement, those three months between announcement and launch (possibly more before the global roll-out is complete) would give plenty of time for people to forget about the device. That problem is only confounded by it being named almost identically to the previous year’s device, the Sony Xperia XZ, which will of course help make it feel even older in the consumers’ minds than it actually is.
It doesn’t end with the processor though. Despite having a Snapdragon 835 with full potential for Quick Charge 4.0 support, Sony has decided to forgo QC4.0’s USB Power Delivery compatibility, and instead stick with Quick Charge 3.0. They also still have not worked out their licensing situation for fingerprint sensors in the U.S. (and the device will likely cost an arm and a leg), but beyond that, the device itself looks to be a solid performer.
A Failure in Communication
Even just public perception of the specifications can have a major impact. From a cursory glance, the Moto G5 Plus’ camera appears awful, dropping from last year’s ~16 MP camera down to just ~12 MP this year, but when you dive down into it, the IMX362 appears to be a fantastic piece of hardware. Dual Pixel PDAF, a ~7 mm sensor (~1/2.5 Type), and an ƒ1.7 aperture all come together to create a compelling package (reminiscent of the IMX260 found in the Samsung Galaxy S7), which could be fantastic if paired with the right software.
Consumer education about what to look for is vital to the success of a product if it isn’t getting into a hype-building megapixel race. How do you build consumer education for something like a camera? Get it into the hands of camera reviewers before launch (like Lenovo did for the Moto X Play and the Moto X Style). That may sound self-serving, but if you want people to have more information than just what the specification sheet says, you need subjective reviews to be ready for people to read and form their opinions around on announcement day. If you want extensive reviews ready for announcement, you need to get production devices into reviewers’ hands early, and the only way to do that is with short lag times between announcement and launch.
We don’t want to hear talk about how your app/hardware/policy/update schedule/etc. will be the greatest, we want to actually see it. We have to have it in our hands to use, and to buy if we like it. We want code and a demo, not a sales pitch and a three months wait. We want a same-day launch, or as close to it as you can feasibly get.
Yes, shorter time windows between announcement and availability will absolutely increase the number of pre-launch leaks, but we are already seeing entire flagship devices leaked before announcement anyways, regardless of the lag time, and for nearly every “mainstream” flagship. Those leaks don’t reach the average consumer, and the enthusiasts that are seeing them don’t seem to mind them. The leaks just continuously build up hype as every new bit of information is released, culminating with the actual product announcement.
It is the time after the product announcement that kills hype. The month, or two, or even three of no new information and no product availability which results in devices exiting people’s consciousnesses. It’s that time span that makes a device feel old on release date, and there is little that can hurt an annually released device’s sales more than people thinking that it is old and ready for an updated model.
“It’s that time span that makes a device feel old on release date”
OnePlus takes it even further, with heavily promoted countdown timers, officially “leaking” out information about the individual parts over the course of a week, and small cryptic messages about what to expect, and it seems to be doing wonders for their marketing department and their sales figures as a result.
So please, stop making us wait after the announcement. Announce your products, and let us buy them right away. Maybe tease us a little bit before launch day if you have to, but don’t let the hype die off between announcement and availability.