Why Do Paper Launches Happen?

Why Do Paper Launches Happen?

Paper launches! You know, when a much anticipated piece of tech finally arrives, but you can't even buy it anywhere. And it's not even like these big tech companies, like Nvidia and Sony, don't know how much stock they'll have. So why do paper launches even happen?

Well, even though a company might be aware it's facing a stock shortage at launch time, they often go through with the planned launch date anyway, to build up hype for a product by way of comparison. You see, the term "paper launch" comes from the fact that the product's release is only talked about on paper. That is, review samples are sent out to select reviewers who can then write about how awesome the product is, especially compared to the competition. And the favorable reviews will help drive demand before the product actually hits store shelves on mass.

For example, in 2003, when AMD released their groundbreaking Athlon 64 CPU, which was the first consumer X86 CPU to feature 64-bit processing. Intel quickly responded with a paper launch of their Pentium 4 Extreme Edition. The new Pentium 4 was given to tech reviewers months before you or I could buy one. And while it did beat out the Athlon 64 in many benchmarks, the timing made it seem like Intel was desperate to get a product out to steal AMD's thunder, as well as the performance crown, rather than getting chips in gamers' hands, people who want them.

And to make matters worse, some paper launches are never followed by a real large scale launch at all, which can happen if the company encounters manufacturing problems that they hope they can fix before the launch window closes.

One example of this is Intel's Canon Lake CPUs which came out in 2018. Canon Lake was a 10-nanometer chip, and by the time it launched, Intel's issues with getting its 10-nanometer process to work were well documented.

Despite Intel's ambitions, Canon Lake processors only appeared in a very limited number of laptops and NUCs before being discontinued completely. In the end, the launch was mostly just for Intel to show that they could get a 10-nanometer chip to market, even though we didn't see a large scale release of 10 nanometer processors until the later Ice Lake and Tiger Lake generations.

But here's something else that bothers me. People calling the recent shortages of graphics cards and game consoles paper launches, when they're actually not.

So, many consumers understandably frustrated with short supply and high prices for new consoles and GPUs labeled the launches of items like the RTX 3080 and the Xbox Series X as paper launches, but this isn't really accurate. After all, it wasn't just reviewers that got their hands on these products. There was enough supply for regular people to buy them. It was just that demand significantly outstripped supply.

Of course, this doesn't mean that the Nvidias and Microsofts of the world are without fault here. It just means that the situation didn't meet the strict definition of paper launch, but the shortages did come at a really inopportune time for both companies and consumers alike.

The pandemic resulted in a surge of interest in video games, since we were all stuck at home. And once one company rolled their product out, their competitor couldn't just sit around and do nothing. I mean, imagine how bad it would look for Sony if they were still using the PS4 to compete with a new Xbox Series lineup. And on top of that, fab capacity worldwide has been running out for a few years now. Demand just keeps on going up for chips, not just for consoles and gaming PCs but for phones, IOT devices, cars, you name it. And all this demand has meant that many fabs have been operating at close to a hundred percent capacity.

The good news though is that several large chipmakers have big expansion plans in the works that should result in a 20% or even higher increase in worldwide fab capacity in about five years time for chips built on a 10-nanometer or smaller node, so hopefully, paper launches and other shortages won't be as common in the near future, and you won't get ripped off on your PC and your Yeezys. 

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