Tomorrow in San Diego, the annual fall edition of the CTIA wireless show begins again. For the first time in eight years, I won't be attending. And given the bombshell that Samsung dropped last Friday, it turns out that I may not be missing much.
It was only a few days ago that Sammy was set to sweep CTIA with the debut of its Galaxy Nexus/Nexus Prime smartphone. Coming off months of hype and countless leaks, the handset has the potential to become the next great Android device with its curved shape, killer specs, and the release of the Ice Cream Sandwich OS. Indeed, it looks promising, and I'm eager to welcome it into the world.
But then, other things happened. Last Tuesday, less than a week after Samsung sent out event invitations, Apple grabbed the spotlight away by rolling out the iPhone 4S. No, it wasn't a radically different iPhone 5, but even the 4S' improvements were enough to make many people forget that "something big" was coming. That was bad enough, but then Apple made it worse by announcing that it would follow the Galaxy Nexus' scheduled October 11 debut with the release of iOS 5 on October 12 and the 4S on October 14.
At first, I didn't think much about the timing. The wireless calendar, particularly during the preholiday buildup, is always crowded with new phones so it's difficult for any company to find a time just for itself. And given the volume of devices that Samsung produces, it never seems concerned with staggering its releases. So I was shocked when the company quietly announced on Friday that it was postponing the Galaxy Nexus launch. But more to the point, I also shook my head and said, "Oh, Samsung."
Though officially Sammy said it was canceling the event because, "It is just not the right time to announce a new product," a company rep later told CNET that the decision was prompted by the death of Apple CEO Steve Jobs last week. That's an honorable sentiment, to be sure, but I don't fully believe it. Perhaps there are problems with the Galaxy Nexus that can't be fixed in time or maybe Samsung doesn't want to cannibalize sales of the Galaxy S II. No, I think Samsung just didn't want its handset and the iPhone 4S to share the same week. Public relations experts may call it wise, but I think it's disappointing.
Like everyone else in the tech world, Samsung knew a new iPhone and a new iOS version were due in mid-October. It knew that any Apple handset would get tons of attention. And most importantly, it knew that Apple does what it wants whenever it wants. CTIA be damned...Apple will roll out the 4S on its own schedule, just as it introduced the first iPhone during the 2007 CES. What's more, it's continuing with the iPhone 4S launch even in light of Jobs' sad passing.
Canceling the event is disappointing because it makes Samsung look scared and insecure. It's almost as if the company is admitting that the Galaxy Nexus can't compete with the iPhone 4S so there's no point in releasing it at the same time. It's disappointing because Android fans now have to wait longer. It's disappointing because it stirs up rumors that something is wrong with the phone. And it's disappointing because it makes it appear as if Google will never really get to a point where it rolls out OS updates on a reliable schedule. We may see the device actually walk the stage in a couple of weeks, but Samsung and Google missed an opportunity.
At the end of the day it all comes down to a striking poster that hangs in a random hallway at Samsung's U.S. headquarters. It's all very motivational, from the "Beat Apple!" slogan to the Samsung mascot in a space suit swooping past her bewildered Apple counterpart. It's a healthy sentiment, actually, and it reflects how the company sees its competition. And certainly, some of Samsung's products have given the iPhone a run for its money.
Yet, to really live up to that challenge, Samsung, you need to be bold. Plan a release and stick to it no matter what your competitor is planning. After all, Apple would never cancel its event over the Galaxy Nexus, so there's no reason that you should. Instead, be confident, trust in your product, and tell the world it's the best device you've ever seen. Poster or no poster, that's what Apple would do.
On Call runs occasionally, alternating between answering reader questions and discussing hot topics in the cell phone world.