You might have thought things couldn’t get any worse for Samsung after a series of fires and explosions forced it to recall its flagship Galaxy Note 7. It had already been forced to recall almost 2.5 million devices at an estimated cost of a billion dollars, with all U.S. major carriers offering customers the option to return replacement devices also.
But things have now gotten worse. Much worse. The Verge has found that no fewer than five replacement devices have caught fire in the U.S. alone.
When it was just one case, I cautioned against jumping to conclusions, but with five separate fires in such a short time, we’re well beyond the point of being able to ascribe this to the simple statistics of lithium battery failures. All four major U.S. carriers have now pulled the Note 7 altogether, and Samsung has ‘temporarily’ halted production of replacement Note 7s …
Right now, Samsung is trying to spin this as a temporary suspension – but it’s honestly hard to see how the Note 7 could possibly make a come-back from this. With both the original and replacement models now considered too dangerous to sell, who would be willing to risk their own safety, and the safety of their home and family, by giving Samsung a third chance?
At this point, Samsung might as well write-off this year’s flagship phone as a lost cause, and focus its efforts on ensuring that nothing at all goes wrong with next year’s Galaxy Note 8. Even then, it’s likely that consumers will be cautious. I’m guessing many will decide to at least wait a few weeks after launch to find out whether next year’s phone is safe.
But the damage done to Samsung’s reputation and prospects could well extend far beyond this year and next. The majority of existing Note 7 owners are going to replace the device with something else, and if they are happy with their new device, they may not return to Samsung in subsequent years.
The main beneficiaries are likely to be Google and LG.
Google has just launched its Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones, the successors to the old Nexus range. It never put much of a marketing push behind the Nexus models, but appears to be making a much bigger splash with the Pixel.
For techies looking to replace their Note 7, the Pixel is probably going to be top of the list. It’s a true flagship device, with what appears to be a great camera for stills and video alike. But the biggest selling-point for anyone living in the Android world is the software exclusives it offers.
Android 7.1 is – the now at least – exclusive to the new Pixel phones. Google’s Siri competitor, Google Assistant, looks set to remain a Pixel-only feature for some time. Plus you get unlimited full-quality photo and video backup to the cloud for the life of the device. That’s a better deal than anyone else offers.
My namesake over at 9to5Google, Ben Schoon, says the software rather than the hardware is the reason he bought one. If Google continues to promote the phone as aggressively as it has done so far, many non-techies are likely to be persuaded too
For those whose priority is similar hardware to the Note 7, the LG V20 is also a natural successor. With its edge-to-edge screen and curved design, those buying on looks may see it as the next best thing.
Techies are probably not going to abandon Android for an iPhone. Most are pretty deeply embedded into either Apple or Android ecosystems, and switching platforms would be a major hassle.
But it’s easy to forget that’s not true for most normals. For them, a smartphone is a smartphone. They all do the things they want, and the mainstream apps they use are all available on both platforms, so they largely buy on cute hardware. For the average mass-market consumer out there, it’s not that big a deal to switch from Android to iOS.
Which means that Apple, too, is likely to benefit from Samsung’s woes. When a Note 7 owner looks around to see what else is available out there, the iPhone 7 is going to be on their radar. People have been switching from Android to iOS in significant numbers for some time now, and the Note 7 disaster is likely to add substantially to their number.
So what is extremely bad news for Samsung is likely to end up being at least moderately good news for Apple. We won’t see those numbers factoring into the earnings Apple reports on October 25, but its Q1 2017 numbers are going to make for interesting reading.