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How Samsung kept the secret on the Galaxy S3's design and features

June 14, 2012

The Samsung Galaxy S3 is one of the best, if not the best, Android smartphones launched this year, but Galaxy S fans waited for months for Samsung to unveil the device. The Galaxy S3 was not announced at CES or MWC as initially expected, and Samsung kept everyone in the dark regarding the phone’s design, features, and availability dates until early May, when the company held a special London-based event to announce the handset.

In addition to being Samsung’s best smartphone creation to date and its current flagship device, the handset was also the most secret such project of the company. For once, Samsung managed to keep the characteristics of a highly-anticipated handset under wraps, even though we saw plenty of Galaxy S3 design leaks, not to mention a variety of specs and features or release dates leaks that hit the web well ahead of the phone’s announcement.

This was certainly a first for an Android device, as we usually get to see images of upcoming smartphones and tablets months ahead of their actual release, and soon after that detailed stories reporting the specs and features of those devices trickle down to the Internets. However, this time around, Samsung managed to pull an Apple so to speak, and avoid having its 2012 flagship device out in the open before the May 3rd media event.

So how did Samsung kept everything almost secret? I say almost as certain specs and features were either guessed by pundits or inevitably leaked, such as final product nameprocessor type, screen size, but also certain design decision, such as keeping the Home button in place in the final Galaxy S3 design.

In short: utmost secrecy, special campus security, limited engineers team, limited access to device from other Samsung employees, multiple design versions, and complete control of prototype handling.

In an article posted on the company blog, Samsung told the story of the Galaxy S3 secrecy. It appears that Galaxy S3 engineers were explicitly told not to discuss the handset with anyone including family members. The task proved to be very challenging for some Samsung employees especially since it implied having to lie to family members asking about the device or deny existing rumors.

Furthermore, it looks like people working on the handset were not allowed to take pictures of the Galaxy S3 prototypes they were working in order to share them with other Samsung engineers or even the company’s own Procurement department:

“Because we were only permitted to see the products and others weren’t,” explained Principal Engineer ByungJoon Lee (Mechanical R&D),“we couldn’t send pictures or drawings. We had to explain the GALAXY S III with all sorts of words. The Procurement Department had to set a price for the GALAXY S III and purchase the materials based on our verbal explanations. It was hard for everyone I guess. Hahaha.”

The “few that were approved for this top-secret project” were separated by the rest in their own lab, with security measures in place meant to protect them from unauthorized personnel, including security cards and fingerprint readers. If that sounds somewhat familiar that’s because it resembles the Apple secrecy culture that was detailed in some of the recently published books detailing the life of Steve Jobs.

Even though we love sharing with you leaks and rumors detailing upcoming mobile devices, maybe other Android device makers should also take more complex measures to ensure the secrecy and security of their products, from prototype phase to actual launch.

Moreover, in order to make sure that nobody had access to the Galaxy S3, engineers came up with various fully functioning prototypes of the device, which were modified whenever that was required in order to try out alternative designs and features. The prototypes were always carried in dummy boxes meant to protect the three available Galaxy S3 versions that engineers were working simultaneously on from prying eyes, both inside and outside the Samsung campus.

“I was in charge of the antenna,” said Senior Engineer BeoungSun Lee (H/W R&D). “Generally, we manufacture the antenna based on the final design and request for authorization. However, for security reasons, we had to make the antenna over and over. We had to come up with a new antenna every time the new design came out. To be honest, it was quite tiring and frustrating”

In order to avoid leaks, the test units sent to partners and suppliers were not handed off to third party services, but handled by Samsung personnel instead, with people in charge of showing off the prototypes having to do a “multi-country tour just to deliver” them and continuously monitor testing.

It would certainly be interesting to see how the other Galaxy S3 prototypes looked like, especially considering the initial criticism the phone was met with – various tech blogs and potential Galaxy S3 buyers voiced their concerns regarding Samsung’s design choices. But that’s probably not going to happen.

What do you think about the Galaxy S3 now, more than a month since it has been unveiled?