It is a well-established fact that people love their smartphones to an almost unreasonable degree. That’s not usually a dangerous infatuation, unless your phone has a higher than average likelihood of bursting into flames, as the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 does. Despite that, data from analytics firm Apteligent indicates that the recall isn’t going very well. There are almost as many Note 7 devices in use now as there were when the recall began.
The Note 7 was launched last month in the US to very positive reviews. No reviewers had any phones blow up, so there wasn’t any way to know what was coming. Over the next few weeks, there were a number of suspicious battery fires, but there are always a few defective or damaged phones — it happens with literally every device with a lithium-ion battery.
The frequency of these incidents became troubling in late August as rumors of a recall started popping up. This didn’t affect adoption of the phone, as indicated by the Apteligent data. Samsung announced the recall on September 2nd, and there was a slight decrease in usage of the Note 7, as you might expect. However, that trend didn’t last. The graph below hammers home the point. People are still using their phones despite an increased risk of battery fires. There are only about 13% fewer active Note 7s than there were when the recall was announced, according to Apteligent.
Samsung hasn’t released full data on the number of fires resulting from the Note 7’s defective battery. The last solid data came from Canada Health, which noted in its announcement of the Canadian recall that 70 Note 7s have caught fire in the US. Since the start of the recall, the FAA has issued warnings about taking the phone on flights, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has gotten involved to recommend that people stop using the devices and return them immediately. Still, that graph.
So, why is this recall such a mess? Samsung seemed to be doing everything right at first. It got out in front of the problem and pledged to take refunds of the phone and issue replacements. However, it moved so fast that replacement phones were not available. It really had no choice for liability reasons. Many owners of the Note 7 didn’t want to move to a Galaxy S7, which was being offered as an alternative. Some carriers were also offering low-end Galaxy J phones as loaners until new Note 7s were available. No one was too keen on that option either. Samsung also had to deal with carrier partners with poorly trained in-store reps who were not accommodating to Note 7 owners.
The initial drop in Note 7 usage following the recall probably represented everyone who was willing to just return or exchange the device for something else. Most others are just sticking it out in hopes of getting a replacement Note 7 with a non-exploding battery. Samsung has already taken a financial hit. But the long-term effects on the company could be much worse if it doesn’t get this sorted out quickly.