It’s August 5, 2020, and another Samsung Galaxy Unpacked event is in the history books. Even if you can’t name a single memorable past announcement from past Unpacked shows, you surely know what I’m referring to: semi-annual press events where Samsung “reveals” a bunch of new products, except that the products were so extensively leaked beforehand that no mystery remains for the official announcements, leaving viewers to sit through awkwardly staged presentations.
Today’s Unpacked was especially pointless. Everything leaked before the event began — not just photos and videos of all the products, but also internal marketing documents discussing the new features alongside canned responses for media. If this had been the first time there were serious leaks before a Samsung event, it might be written off as bad luck, but the same thing seems to happen before every single Unpacked. That means the leaks are either planned by Samsung or the product of consistently terrible security.
If Unpacked events had the same thoughtful internal structures of the Apple media events they copy, they might still be worthwhile as marketing exercises, but that’s not the case. At Apple events, a collection of product reveals are logically sequenced, then pre-rehearsed and timed down to the minute, such that each reveal ends with actionable information. Regardless of advance leaks, viewers only get the full story about each product when the company finishes its stage presentation — a proper climax.
By contrast, Unpacked events are hugely anticlimactic, and today’s was sort of a mess, with too many self-inflicted wounds to count. Just minutes before the livestream began, Samsung published all of the official announcements, distracting at least some viewers from what it was about to show on stage. Then, rather than sequentially informing viewers about five discrete products, the company muddled through a bunch of information about all of them, mixed with too many promotional videos to count.
If I had to name the single biggest failing of Unpacked, it was Samsung’s inability to market just one product at a time. The company oddly used its initial reveal of the flagship Galaxy Note20 smartphone to focus on chassis colors — not features — including the first of way too many references to “Mystic Bronze,” before abruptly switching to a Galaxy Tab S7 announcement. Then, it ping-ponged back to the Note20 to discuss software, including a high-energy Microsoft xCloud pitch from pro gamer Myth, before flipping to the Galaxy Watch 3, then back to Note20 again for a discussion of location services. I forget where new bean-shaped Galaxy Buds Live fit in there, but they were in the middle somewhere, I think.
As a viewer, the event just seemed like Samsung wanted to debut a bunch of different promotional videos, but not necessarily in a logical sequence, interspersed with cringey marketing filter (“designed for next normal”). I could largely put aside the awkward cinematography, except for the times when gigantic rendered devices appeared next to presenters on the virtual stage. As a journalist, there was the additional simultaneous stream of constant email notifications from Samsung partners, including Qualcomm announcing that its Snapdragon 865 Plus chips would be inside the foldable Galaxy Z Fold 2 — before the device was even officially revealed on stage.
It didn’t help that the new Galaxy products were so utterly iterative and forgettable. Five minutes after the Galaxy Tab S7 was presented, I couldn’t tell you why anyone would want or need one. Similarly, only the hardest-core Samsung fans could pick the Galaxy Watch 3 out of a lineup with prior Galaxy-series watches. “Mystic Bronze” turned out to be the big meme-worthy topic of the event, and unless you’re a really big fan of rebadged rose gold, who cares?
My sense is that Samsung and its fans would be better served by individual product announcements than Apple-scale events. That much became crystal clear when the company kinda-sorta announced the Galaxy Z Fold 2, a product that really needed to be re-pitched to viewers after last year’s Galaxy Z Fold (aka Galaxy Fold) debacle. This year, presenters spent most of the Fold 2’s stage time discussing its improved durability, a topic that had to be addressed, but which didn’t exactly instill confidence in the quality of all the previously revealed products. Z Fold 2 might more usefully have been separated from the rest of the announcements.
Somehow, Samsung decided to do that, too. Rather than offering a full reveal of the foldable, it told viewers that it would have more to say about the device on September 1. Then it wrapped up the event with a weird Q&A discussing a collection of disparate issues — S Pen, privacy, COVID-19, and corporate global goals — followed by a Netflix commercial and a collection of slides on device pricing and dates. As much as I’d love to call it a “mess,” it was more like a puzzle that was put on display despite having been assembled improperly.
Just like the company’s semi-annual leaks, I might feel differently if a scatterbrained Unpacked was a one-time issue, but this is the way these events tend to go, and I don’t think they’re serving the intended purpose. Instead of enabling consumers and journalists to learn about potentially interesting new products, Unpacked is a jumble of poorly coordinated messages that need to either be thoroughly rethought and resequenced or split up into separate product-specific announcements. In a pandemic-wracked world, where media “gatherings” just aren’t practical, the latter approach would have a much better chance of meaningfully reaching Samsung customers, while enabling the company to make definitive statements about its products — rather than letting leaks do all the talking.