Here's a quick summary of Samsung's accomplishments over the past week: it launched two high-spec smartphones with their own distinct features and design; it opened preorders immediately; it delivered some of the phones early, ahead of a full release this Friday. All great successes — except then the company proceeded to alienate its most avid fans without giving regular consumers a clear enough message why they should buy the suddenly available devices.
The Galaxy Note 5 and S6 Edge+ are two very important devices in Samsung's lineup. They assert the company's strength in the phablet category that it helped define, and they are the vehicles for two uniquely Samsung innovations: the S Pen stylus and the doubly curved Edge screen. Samsung chose to put a particular emphasis on them this year by holding a stand-alone Unpacked event in the middle of August — in lieu of the traditional early-September IFA launch that every preceding Note has received.
The stage was all set for Samsung to shake us out of our summer haze and rekindle our acquisitive passions, but then Samsung flubbed its lines. Some of that has to do with the product choices the company made. To hardcore users, the new Note looks like a regression from previous years, with its smaller battery and lack of microSD card support. Some of it is down to the tepid presentation that failed to convince anyone of the need for the Edge's screen. Samsung talked a lot about its human-centric design philosophy, and then neglected to give us any human reasons to want its new phones.
Samsung needed to show its unique advantages, not just its unique technology
Such was the paucity in real, tangible innovation that Samsung even resorted to showing off a BlackBerry-esque vertical keyboard attachment for its new large-screened handsets. That was an apt microcosm of Samsung's unenticing presentation: the keyboard's supposed to be the mobile typist's dream, a turbocharger for your written notes, but the person on stage only managed to thumb "hi mom" in his demonstration. There are plenty of single-tap emoji that can be used for that purpose. Samsung needed to show us its unique advantages, and all it showed was its unique technology.
Tech companies don't have to be brilliant marketers to be successful — though it surely helps — and Samsung's uninspiring presentation could be inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. But Samsung didn't do itself many favors in its main event and followed it up with a pair of other missteps. First of all, Samsung decided against selling the Note 5 in Europe, but failed to address it in an upfront manner. That unhappy news came through in a series of uncorroborated, disbelieving reports from attendees at Samsung's London event. It would be another day before Samsung had an official statement to say that it believes the S6 Edge+ will be sufficient to satisfy Europeans' phablet needs. Europe is a pretty big place, and it would have taken Samsung mere seconds to acknowledge the change. It chose not to, because it's not awesome news, but then finding out the other way left a lot of people feeling doubly unhappy.
A 128GB Galaxy Note would be nice, wouldn't it?
Samsung also got a lot of people excited by listing 128GB versions of the Note 5 and S6 Edge+ on its website — contradicting what it had told the press — but then it had to let them all down by admitting it was a mistake. Mistakes do happen, however these ones appear to have been caused by Samsung's indecision. Reports out of Korea say that Samsung is still contemplating the introduction of 128GB variants of its new phones, and the company's marketing VP is cited as saying that a definitive decision hasn't been made yet. The same is true of Samsung's potential plans for the Galaxy Note 5 in Europe: the company says it will react to market demand and could still launch the stylus-equipped device in the market.
So let's do that summary again: Samsung disappointed stylus fans in Europe and wasn't upfront about it; it frustrated power users who look to the Note series to push into ever-higher specs; and it introduced a second Edge device before it could come up with a solid reason to have even one. All of this, along with the erroneous web listings, muddled the launch and anticipation for a pair of technically impressive devices that give everyone more choice and not less.
Apple is lauded for being able to get its new products in stores within two weeks, whereas Samsung is managing that in half the time. It takes a huge effort in engineering, design, and logistics to put these sophisticated devices together and to deposit them into buyers' pockets so quickly. It's just a shame Samsung's decision-making wasn't as rapid and precise as its product-making.
Verge Video: Galaxy Note 5 hands on