Samsung phone launches are so different than Apple's...
We're not even a week into 2020 and Samsung has not announced a couple of new phones already, but an event to announce even more new phones.
And… it's worth taking a look at, both from a Samsung and an Apple point of view.
Now, the February event part isn't unusual. Samsung has been holding events early in the year for a while. Last year's was February 20. This year's will be February 11. Android Central and Mr. Mobile will be all over it, so keep your YouTubes locked there.
Samsung's also far from a stranger when it comes to multiple phone releases. They've been doing twice a year flagships for a while now. Galaxy S at the beginning of the year and Galaxy Note towards the. With new A-series, M-series, and other phones outside the U.S. scattered all around them. One at almost every 1/4-inch increment, it feels like at times.
That's in pretty stark contrast to Apple's typical strategy, which is one big phone drop towards the end of the year. The only exception so far, a couple of product RED variants aside, was the iPhone SE announced in March of 2016.
Last year, Samsung dropped the Galaxy S10, Galaxy S10+, a mid-range variant named Galaxy S10e, a higher-end 5G variant, yeah, before 5G was even cool, and the tease for the Galaxy Fold, all in February.
Then, in August, the Galaxy Note 10, Galaxy Note10+, and a higher-end 5G version as well.
As usual, there were variants built off of Samsung's own Exynos chipset sold internationally and versions built off Qualcomm's Snapdragon, sold in the U.S. And that's not counting what feels like a dozen or two As and Ms and other phones from price-points incredibly low to… the multi-thousand-dollar Fold.
Now, Samsung is by far not the only Android phone vendor to release multiple flagships on a bifurcated schedule.
Huawei had the P30 and P30 Pro at the beginning of last year and the Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro near the end. And, throw in some 5G and Porsche Design there as well.
Same with OnePlus 7 and 7 Pro, and OnePlus 7T and OnePlus 7T pro. Yeah, with 5G and McLaren.
And I'm sure someone must have had a Lambo phone and Ferrari's cousin design in there as well.
Again, that's all compared to three — count 'em — three phones from Apple: iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max. Also not counting the older models left to linger at the lower price points.
This year, only a week old though it may be, Samsung has already gone into full on hold my beer mode, presser-dropping two new phone builds, before Unpacked and before even CES, which usually kicks off the gear.
They're the Galaxy S10 Lite and Galaxy Note 10 Lite. And they're all shades of Samsung.
They've got the base branding from Samsung's flagships but are doing the same mix of specs every company is doing lately, including Google with the Pixel a line and Apple previously with the XR and now with the 11 non-Pro. The one meant to offer as much value as possible at a lower price to surge sales without completely sacrificing the higher end.
Samsung did the same thing last year with the Galaxy S10e, but that was one phone in most markets, and these are two phones, with much bigger screens, and probably a very different mix of markets.
Also a very different mix of features. One has an S-pen, obvious by the Note branding, but the Note 10 Lite has a headphone jack where the Note 10 non-Lite did not, and it looks like the S10 Lite does not have a headphone jack where the S10 not-Lite… did.
The Note 10 Lite also seems to only ship with Samsung's Exynos processor, but it sounds like the 2018 Exynos 9810 not the 2019 Exynos 9825, which may mean it's not only not destined for the U.S. but also that it's not as specced out as the Note name usually implies?
The S10 Lite has Qualcomm's 2019 Snapdragon 855, though. Which is both more recent and more U.S.-friendly.
The cameras are different as well. They both have 3 on the back, the Note getting the telephoto, wide, ultra-wide treatment, but the S swapping out the telephoto for a Macro and the more mundane wide for a new, kinda super high-end, super steady 48 megapixel wide instead.
And, for no particular reason, they're all penned up into a very Pixel 4 looking camera bump. Which is also weird, because Samsung's gone out of their way not to follow trends like notches before and these new style camera bumps are far fuglier than what Samsung had been doing before, at least for my tastes.
It all just makes everything feel like… an experiment. A total experiment.
Which is exactly what Samsung has always been known to do. Throw seemingly random combinations of devices and features at the wall, scrape up what sticks, and then do it all over again. Throw. Scrape. Repeat. Think of it as machine learning by non-machines. Mutations occur. If they're beneficial, they tend to be passed on. If they're not, they'e ground back up into the feed.
It's the complete opposite of Apple's approach, but it lets pretty much everyone else watch along and see what happens. Not just in terms of what Samsung Mobile may sell, but in terms of what Samsung parts might have available.
But, there won't be too long to think this time, because Unpacked is coming wicked early.
If you've never watched a Samsung Unpacked event before, you really should. Again, it's so very different from an Apple event. Where Apple presenters rehearse for days, Samsung's been known to send scripts in at the last minute and presenters to edit their way through them live on stage.
Where almost no one outside a handful of major feature publications so much as glimpse Apple products before the events, Samsung, like many Android manufacturers, has tons of media in the weeks before the event, and lets all the hands-on videos and photos get snapped up well in advance.
Where a steady stream of first-looks flow out after Apple events and the hands-on area that follows, Samsung tends to embargo all the pre-written and recorded hands-ons for just after the events starts.
So, there you are, watching along, when suddenly your notifications light up like techno show and you suddenly have to decide if you're going to keep watching Samsung's event or switch over and watch all the YouTube videos that just went live about the exact same stuff.
It'd be so much better, at least for me, if we could all just focus on the event and then have the embargo lift right afterwards, so we could just keep watching, you know, like civilized people.
This year, at Unpacked, rumor has it Samsung may be switching up its numbering convention, not just like they did when they skipped the Note 8 and went straight from the recalled Note 7 to the rebooted Note 9, but going all the way from the S10 to the S20.
I joked on Twitter that the 20 was because Samsung would be announcing 20 new phones, which, don't tempt them, or that it was because their CEO's every-time, show-killer lecture would go from like 10 or 15 minutes to a full on 20 minutes, which I shouldn't even joke about. If Tim Cook spent that long saying that little every show, there'd be an open revolt. Keep those things to 2-3 minutes, tops. Anything longer is just audience abuse.
But, no, the unconventional wisdom is that Samsung is changing up the numbers to line up with the calendar year. In other words, the S20 is what you get in 2020.
Which is fine. Any company can and should call any phone by any name that makes the best sense to everyone at the time, but especially to customers.
And, I'm low key just happy they're not licensing Galaxy S Mando and The Child for the names. At least not yet.
There's also rumored to be a Galaxy S20 Ultra, which would be even bigger than the Galaxy S20+, because Android Tablets aren't already afraid enough for their gadget damned lives.
And, a new Galaxy Fold. Only, instead of folding width-wise like last year's fold, going from tablet to phone, this one would fold height-wise, like the Moto Razr, going from phone to… smaller phone.
Again, throw, scrape, repeat.
Which is great for spectators and even pretty damn good for customers.
Apple may be in a race for most valuable company in the world, but Samsung has what feels like nation state level funding. Still, Huawei, OnePlus, Redmi and so many others are coming on so hard, and Samsung doesn't enjoy the differentiation that is iOS or iMessage or any of that, that they probably have way less interest in more strategic, more methodical approaches to their product lines and are willing experiment in public and at grand scale far more than Apple ever would.
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.
By Tammy Rogers