Google can’t seem to keep a lid on the many leaks about its next smartphone, the Nexus 5. It accidentally revealed the device during a promotional video for the next version of Android. Then some unknown sources leaked images of the device meant for the press to Mobile Syrup. And then this morning Google briefly added the device to the Google Play store, confirming the Nexus 5 moniker and revealing that the device will retail for $349. Rusty faucets spring fewer leaks.
Google isn’t the only company to struggle with a flood of leaks about a new product. We knew that Apple intended to release two smartphones this year — one with a plastic casing and the other with a fingerprint scanner — long before the company announced the products in September. Few products are released without being revealed in some unofficial fashion long before their parent companies wish to make their efforts public.
That’s to be expected. Google and Apple are making and selling more devices than they ever have before, which means that there are more opportunities for leaks to occur. Leakers are able to share details about, and images of, the products on social media, allowing them to attract more attention from consumers and the press. And the fetishization of technology has led to more interest in learning about devices we weren’t supposed to know existed.
Companies use this drip, drip, drip of product information to their advantage. It’s hardly a coincidence that Google announced the next version of Android just a week before Apple announced its new iPhones. And it doesn’t take a member of the tinfoil hat brigade to think that Google might have purposely added a shot of the Nexus 5 to its promotional video to attract even more attention. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Google announced the Nexus 5 on Tuesday, when Apple is expected to announce new iPads.) Apple is thought to do something similar, which is why reports can appear in a variety of publications at around the same time, each with a new snippet of information.
These companies turned consumer technology into a spectacle. Product announcements that would have previously remained in the news cycle for just a few days have been drawn out to span weeks, months, or years. This, in turn, encourages actual leakers who present information that these companies don’t want to be published to the press and directly to consumers. Now everyone wants to peek behind the curtain.
These leaks can become wearying, though. Seeing a blurry image of an unannounced device is exciting the first time. But by the time those images have given way to official press images, as they have with the Nexus 5, it would be nicer if a company would just announce the damn thing. Devices can be declared boring or stupid or unnecessary before their creators have even unveiled them to the public.
Everyone wants to know how a magic trick is performed. That’s why leaks about a product’s existence, appearance, and price can be so compelling. The trouble is that once they figure it out, it’s hard to enjoy the actual performance in the same way.
Is it any wonder that so many of these products seem boring, then? Many of these devices are pictured, written about, and argued over months before their release. The only things companies like Google and Apple can add to the leaks are minor details and a heaping helping of meaningless adjectives. They’ve lost control of the timing and tone with which they’re able to introduce the products that will help them push their share price past $1,000 per share or amass 10 percent of all corporate cash (kind of).
Leaks can be good for business. (They’re certainly good for the publications that rack up the pageviews because of them.) But they can also make a product seem like yesterday’s news, at least partly because it was, thanks to the many stories published about every tiny detail that emerges about the product.
We’re seeing behind the curtain. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that we can no longer appreciate the performance the same way as when the magic trick had a true reveal.