Analysis from Mashable.com.
Samsung’s glorious Galaxy Note7 mission has just imploded, almost as spectacularly as SpaceX’s Facebook satellite-carrying rocket did on the launch pad just hours before.
SpaceX will mop up and launch again. Samsung’s Galaxy Note7 might not be so lucky.
The 5.7-inch Galaxy Note7 is one of the best-reviewed products and, perhaps, one of the top smartphones of the past year, but all that may be for naught. After dozens of reports of Galaxy Note7’s exploding while charging, Samsung on Friday made the dramatic decision to push pause on all sales of the Galaxy Note7. They have yet to issue a full recall, but are working on a replacement policy for the U.S. market, which Samsung plans to announce sometime on Friday.
There have been smartphone issues – even exploding and burning phones – in the past, but nothing quite like this.
Consider the timeline:
- Samsung officially unveiled the Galaxy Note7 on August 2.
- Pre-orders started on August 3.
- Early hands-ons and media buzz quickly generated so much excitement that some carriers started shipping to excited customers days ahead of the official August 19 ship date.
- On August 24, Samsung told Reuters that they basically couldn’t build the devices fast enough.
- Bu August 31, the number of exploding Note7’s prompted Samsung to stop shipments.
- On September 2, the company halted sales of the Gorilla-glass-clad device.
It all happened so fast that there wasn’t even time for the denial phase.
Over the years, consumers have discovered all kinds of problems with their smartphones, everything from faulty antennas to the units catching fire in their pockets. Most of the time, these are such isolated cases, the manufacturer can either ignore, deny or eventually recommend a different usage strategy to avoid the issue.
What they plan to do for current Note7 owners is a little less clear. While exchanges are promised, some Note7 owners are openly wondering what they should do with their Note7 devices right now. Samsung has not recommended they stop using them, even if there is the potential that the phone could explode or catch fire during its next recharge. (I’ve contacted Samsung for clarification of this issue.)
Timing is everything
It isn’t lost on me or anyone else that this sales halt and exchange program for the hottest new phone on the market comes at the worst possible moment, less than a week before the launch of the eagerly-anticipated Apple iPhone 7.
Prior to Samsung’s exploding Galaxy Note7 problems, most, including me, had positioned the Galaxy Note7 as Apple’s toughest smartphone competition to date. Sure, it’s a big phone, but the Galaxy Note7 managed a bigger screen in a smaller body than Apple’s current iPhone 6s Plus and it threw in a stylus, more battery life, wireless charging and a waterproof case. Oh and did I mention that it can see your irises? This is one awesome smartphone.
When it isn’t exploding.
Now, all the marketing Samsung may have planned to counter whatever Apple launches next week will probably be put on hold. It’s the loss of a golden opportunity.
Imagine, for instance, if Apple actually does drop the 3.5 mm headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. During the Galaxy Note7 launch in August, Samsung memorably made a sort of live subtweet about the rumors, casually mentioning that their device would come with a headphone jack.
Forget further subtweets or clever counter-marketing. For the few weeks, Samsung will have exactly one mission: saving the Galaxy Note7.
All the marketing Samsung may have planned to counter whatever Apple launches next week will probably be put on hold. It’s the loss of a golden opportunity.
So, as Apple is introducing major new hardware the features that meet, beat or even fall short of the Note7, Samsung will have to sit on its hands while it quietly deals with what could very well be the worst thing that has ever happened to the Galaxy brand
It may be a small blessing that this happened so early in the Note7 life cycle, before a broader, global roll-out (it’s been available in the U.S. and South Korea). Perhaps the total number of units in consumer hands is relatively manageable and the process of exchanging them might not be that bad.
On the other hand, since most consumers in the U.S. still get their smartphone though carriers like Verizon and AT&T, Samsung has to coordinate with each one of them individually to figure out how this exchange will work. These are the same carriers who are likely gearing up to deliver a brand new iPhone to millions of consumers. This is definitely not something they want to deal with right now.
Can Samsung save the Note7?
With the exception of the details on exchanges, I’d say Samsung is handling this as best it can. It responded quickly, revealed the source of the explosions (a battery cell issue) and clearly wants to make this right for its customers.
However, there’s no taking back the images of these destroyed phones, easily assuaging customer fears or regaining their trust.
The space isn’t easy, but delivering consumer electronics to millions of customers at once probably isn’t a cakewalk, either. Design, development and building the final product can take months or even years. Testing against catastrophic failure is part of that process. If you’re lucky that failure happens before you place a multi-million-dollar satellite atop a rocket ship or ship millions of phones to consumers.
And sometimes it doesn’t.