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Announcement to launch: Why the big gap?
We’re now deep into the heart of 2017’s big flagship season, with major flagship releases now arriving in consumer hands. However, many of you may have noticed there’s been a growing delay between handset announcements and their actual release dates this generation, especially when compared with some of last year’s announcements.
For example, despite LG and HTC making their latest announcements weeks if not months ahead of Samsung, the G6 only arrived on store shelves days before the Galaxy S8 in many markets. The U Ultra only ended up seeing a small release advantage, too. Meanwhile Sony’s new Xperia XZ Premium isn’t expected to land in some markets until June, a more than three month gap after its unveiling at MWC. And that’s just some of the major releases so far. But why are consumers having to wait so long?
One possible reason is likely to be tied to hardware availability, as a growing number of manufacturers increasingly bidding over the limited supply of QHD resolution display, OLED technology, high-end processors, memory, and flash. Securing sufficient parts, especially for a global release, appears to be becoming an increasingly tricky business. If the revelation about Huawei’s range of memory components found insides the P10 has shown us anything, it’s how tough of a time some companies can have in securing all of the parts they require for a major release.
However, we’ve historically seen a number of manufacturers stagger their release dates, especially from Chinese OEMs that launch in their home territories too, which usually alleviates this problem. Even Samsung and LG, which are typically quicker to market, release handsets in their home regions first, before gradually rolling out to the West. Of course, coordinating multiple regional releases is difficult and costly, requiring distribution, support, and carrier relationships across multiple territories, and so that can be why many handsets appear in some regions ahead of others too.
The globalized nature of today’s markets means that consumers are increasingly keen for shorter release timeframes between regions, and smartphone import businesses are bigger than ever. Therefore, OEMs are under increasing pressure to supply more handsets right out of the gate, which is compounding this issue of securing sufficient hardware stock.
Speaking of hardware orders, the limited availability of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 flagship mobile platform is also likely weighing heavily on manufacturer announcements this year. As Samsung has secured itself the first batches, rival OEMs aren’t going to see their 835 handsets arrive on store shelves until the second half of the year. For LG and HTC, this prompted early announcements of less powerful phones, in a bid to hit the market sooner than the Galaxy S8. Sony, however, opted to announce its 835 powered Xperia XZ Premium around the usual time, despite knowing that processing hardware won’t be available until much later in the year. Xiaomi’s Mi 6 is in a similar position, with a release date still pending.
A combination of a delayed Snapdragon 835 and OEM eagerness to announce products is certainly a contributing factor to the growing gap between some product announcements and release dates this year.
These OEMs had to announce something just to prevent Samsung from garnering all of the attention in the early half of the year, if nothing else. Then there’s also the bragging rights associated with being the first to unveil such a phone, even if it’s months away from release.
This isn’t just a phenomenon related to mobile processors though, handset manufacturers are often keen to be the first to any major, or even minor, milestone. We’ve seen this with QHD and 4K displays, various dual camera technologies, and other innovations too. The quest to be on the cutting edge encourages OEMs to make announcements ahead of the competition, even if they know that procuring the required units of a cutting edge technology still might be months away. Whatever the reasoning, this has manifested in a number of slow releases for us consumers this year, but ultimately we care most about handsets that actually make to market first.
Of course, limited hardware availability or even hype building doesn’t necessarily mean that OEMs have to announce their products so far in advance. OEMs have a good handle on when components and stock will be available, and there’s definitely a downside to announcing a product months ahead of when consumers are likely to get their hands on it. Hype dies down, alternative products appear, and consumer interest simply moves on to the next new thing. The longer this situation continues, the less likely we are to pay attention these announcements as well. So OEMs ultimately run the risk of losing consumer trust in the long term.
The struggle to stay relevant and to differentiate products from the competition that is encouraging companies to be first with their announcements.
In my opinion, it’s the struggle to stay relevant and/or to differentiate products from the competition that is increasingly driving this delay between a product announcement and it actually arriving in consumer hands. There are few headlines to grab by being second to announce something, and the increasingly competitive nature of the market has made being first more important than ever.
Furthermore, this high level of competition is keeping announcements regularly flowing in the industry. If a major player unveils something, you can bet that smaller companies will want to show off their own products, even if consumers are going to be in for a longer wait. When this motivation combines with component shortages or delays, we end up in today’s situation where this gap appears to be growing.
Do you feel that OEMs are increasingly announcing products too far ahead of their actual consumer launch? Is this leading you to pay less attention to announcements, or is the situation not that bad when you view it with a critical eye?