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Dear tech blogs, Can we agree on the meaning of "launch"?

Posted: , by Michael H.

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Dear tech blogs, Can we agree on the meaning of
If you've been a longtime reader, you may have noticed that I am a stickler for language specificity. I’ve talked before about how eventually the word “smartphone” should probably be phased out, because at some point all phones will be “smart”, making the distinction unnecessary. I’ve talked about the metonymy of Apple’s mobile brand names, and how the fact that people idly using the words “iPhone” or ‘iPad” to stand in for “smartphone” or “tablet” isn’t really that big a deal. And, multiple times, I have argued that the word “fragmentation” is wholly inaccurate: it exaggerates the issues of the Android ecosystem, hides the real offenders, and impedes progress towards potential solutions.

This time of year has brought up my bile, because it highlights one of the most most annoying examples of muddled language that you will find in the the tech world. I am speaking of the use of the word "launch". You’ve likely seen it used plenty of times in various contexts, and often the word has two distinct and incompatible meanings.

In any other market, the word “launch” refers to the day that a product is made available for users, that is to say it is a synonym of the word “release”. As in: today was the launch day of Grand Theft Auto 5; or, today saw the launch of GTA V; or, GTA V launched today on multiple platforms. That is easy enough to understand. Unfortunately, for some reason in the mobile tech world, the word “launch” doesn’t only stand in as a synonym for “release”.

Instead, in our world there are plenty of sources who will use the word “launch” interchangeably with the word “announce”. You likely saw headlines last week proclaiming that Apple had “launched” two new iPhones as well as iOS 7. Of course, iOS 7 isn’t actually being released until tomorrow, and the new iPhones won’t be released until Friday. So, you can see where there will be confusion.

The awkwardness of usage gets even worse when it comes to rumors and speculation, because it completely muddles the context of a statement. For example, there have been rumors recently that Google is planning to “launch” the Nexus 5 and Android 4.4 KitKat on October 14th. Unfortunately, because of the inaccuracy of the word, it is impossible to know whether that rumor means Google is planning the announcement event for mid-October, or if the announcement event will happen in early October, and the release of the device and software update will be coming in mid-October.

We can try to parse the rumor with other rumors, like ones from earlier in the year which stated that Google was aiming for a late October launch of the Nexus 5, but of course that’s just going to compound the problem.

So, I’d like to put out a call to all tech blogs, mobile device leakers, and OEMs as well to simply stop using the word launch for a while. Eventually we can work it back in with its proper context meaning “release”, but for now I think it might be best to give the word a rest and just stick with the more accurate and easy to understand options of “announce” and “release”. I don’t know that I can go through October reading the same headlines from earlier this month about Samsung “launching” the Galaxy Note 3. It may cause me to launch my computer out a window.

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posted on 17 Sep 2013, 22:08 4

1. Commentator (Posts: 2435; Member since: 16 Aug 2011)


"If you've been a longtime reader, you may have noticed that a stickler for language specificity."

See what did there!

posted on 17 Sep 2013, 23:01 2

2. DaNTRoN (Posts: 135; Member since: 23 Jul 2012)


One of the more genuinely funny things I have seen in a while.

Thanks for the laugh.

posted on 17 Sep 2013, 23:37 1

4. PostalJim (Posts: 46; Member since: 01 Sep 2011)


Announcing the Launch of the groundbreaking new device, The AppleWinDroid X-1!!! The launch of the X-1 will begin at the IWC in Buenos Aries possibly as soon as next week, At the event they will also launch the first software update that will launch the day after the launch of the X-1.

Remember the grey brick with the black flexi antenna that made your ear hot? Did it have a launch?

posted on 18 Sep 2013, 04:04 1

6. Ishmeet (Posts: 111; Member since: 16 Sep 2013)


I agree; just yesterday, as I was reading the newspaper, my eyes went onto a headline saying "Samsung launches the galaxy note 3 and gear in India", while, exactly, they had just announced its availability in the country and the device would be coming in the market by 25th of this month. It can get seriously confusing for someone who doesn't know much about all this.

posted on 18 Sep 2013, 06:18 2

7. roldefol (Posts: 2975; Member since: 28 Jan 2011)


You know what I love about Michael's articles? I can tell they're his from the headline alone. This industry needs a good dose of self-criticism and snark.

posted on 18 Sep 2013, 06:50

8. lyndon420 (Posts: 1763; Member since: 11 Jul 2012)


An iPhone isn't considered a smartphone up here in Canada, from the carrier perspectives anyway.

posted on 18 Sep 2013, 08:03

12. roldefol (Posts: 2975; Member since: 28 Jan 2011)


Apple would like to believe that the iPhone isn't just a smartphone. It's better than a smartphone because it's an iPhone.

Meanwhile, in the real world, I worked with a guy who called his Droid Eris a "Verizon iPhone".

Both of the above examples bothered me because they just add confusion.

posted on 18 Sep 2013, 06:55

9. fistigons (Posts: 263; Member since: 11 Feb 2012)


I go to phone arena for my instant news and I go to pocket now for the well written commentary.

posted on 18 Sep 2013, 07:04

10. XperiaFanZone (Posts: 1392; Member since: 21 Sep 2012)


The term, "phablet" is off-putting -_-

posted on 18 Sep 2013, 07:30

11. iDroid8 (Posts: 155; Member since: 16 Oct 2012)


Nice article!
+1

posted on 18 Sep 2013, 08:58

13. Finalflash (Posts: 1799; Member since: 23 Jul 2013)


I think this behaviour actually started back around 2004, and primarily by one major instigator, Nvidia. I remember when they were "launching" their 5800 series cards where they announced it and said available from today but none were to be seen anywhere. They released a handful and just couldn't produce any more because of bad engineering. Back then launching actually meant availability as well, so they had to say both. Then they kept doing it and after a series of "paper launches" the word launch eventually became just an announcement. Now the actual launch is replaced by the word "availability" and you'll see that a whole bunch of articles mention "with availability on (date)".

posted on 18 Sep 2013, 09:32

14. HildyJ (Posts: 149; Member since: 11 Aug 2012)


Amen. Besides phones, CES is a major offender. At least most "launched" phones eventually make it to market, unlike some CES launches that vanish into the aether. The recent iPhone event was a Announcement. When the fanbois can actually purchase the iPhone it will be Launched. If Philippe Stark had told Steve Jobs that his new yacht Venus was "launched" once the plans were complete, Steve would have laughed in his face. Too bad Steve and his successors and their competitors can't be honest with their customers.

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