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Samsung's botched Jay-Z deal, a mobile app launch fail for the ages

In this week's Searchlight, Samsung shows how not to do a mobile app launch, plus fun and games with data privacy, the perils of sideloading and more.

There are three things you can be certain of in life: death, taxes and the success of a Jay-Z album. So when Samsung teamed up with the multi-platinum, multi-hyphenate mogul to hawk his new release, "Magna Carta Holy Grail," it was a guaranteed win-win. Except that it wasn't. Not quite. Samsung might find a sympathetic ear among CIOs -- who among you hasn't had a mobile app launch go bad or a site crash? Then again, you might be shaking your heads at the hubris.

The idea itself was brilliant marketing -- a new way to take advantage of mobile devices to promote an artist and deliver their music. Samsung purchased one million copies of the album for $5 a pop then made it available to Galaxy S III-, Galaxy S4-, and Galaxy Note II-owning fans via app on July 4, nearly a week before it officially dropped. Instant cool cred and customer love for Samsung!

The company wagered users would jump at the chance for free Jay-Z tunes and they were right. What they apparently didn't bet on was so many people would try to get it at once. Shortly after it became available at midnight on the fourth, the app crashed. Jay-Z came to Samsung's defense saying no one could have predicted that 20 million people would attempt to grab the album at once -- the company couldn't possibly be prepared. Nice of you to say, Mr. Carter, but I beg to differ. In reality, in this day and age, it just sounds like poor planning a'la the Gaga/Amazon debacle of 2011. The ease of downloading a mobile app, combined with the hype surrounding this particular mobile app launch should've had Samsung taking out all the stops to make sure systems could meet the demand. But, this wasn't the worst of things.

Those who were able to get their fingers on the album were miffed to find they actually got more than they bargained for. And here comes another old adage: there's no such thing as a free lunch. The app required users to cough up their phone status and identity along with their Facebook or Twitter information to which updates would automatically be made when one interacted with the app. In other words there was a cost to this "free" album: fans' private data.

Would fans have busted the down the virtual doors to get "MCHG" had they known the hidden cost in advance? Honestly, most probably wouldn't think twice, but all the same in these paranoid post-Snowden days, it got folks up in arms and fast. In the end, as this week's lead Searchlight item points out, fans and Samsung both lost something in this win-win proposition, it's true. But lest we overreach here, as HuffPo contributor Nicholas Mennuti blogged, let's not put this on par with NSA snooping. Jay-Z summed up the situation nicely for all parties involved in a tweet: "sux must do better."

Check out's own coverage of these topics

Also in the Searchlight this week, scary news for sideloading Android users (and their CIOs), fun with data privacy and more.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Karen Goulart, features writer.

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Has your company ever botched a mobile app launch?