Some years ago, The Powers That Be declared it mandatory that new smartphone generations arrive every single year, even when there’s not much to update. Companies often angle for strategic launch dates and windows — and given that the phone market is essentially a two-way battle between Samsung and Apple, there’s a constant pressure to one-up the other. Samsung, however, may have pushed this too far. In its haste to beat Apple to the punch, the company may have compromised its own battery technology, leading to the current Note 7 recall.
Samsung executives heard the new iPhone wouldn’t really offer any eye-popping features or major capabilities that consumers would want, according to Bloomberg. Company executives then rushed to take advantage of this, calling on suppliers to push the envelope and deliver new features like iris scanning and edge-to-edge screens, and continued advancement of existing ones like fast battery charging.
Samsung wanted to move aggressively at a moment when Apple seemed to be stuck in a rut. Sometimes, a strategy like this pays off. Sometimes, it literally blows up in your face. Samsung gambled for the former and got the latter.
Samsung has since admitted that the problem with its Galaxy Note 7 phones is that the battery pack is ever so slightly too large for its chassis. The space pinches the battery, causing a short circuit in the cells of one particular supplier. This is why the failure has been comparatively rare. But it’s also why Samsung had to recall the product — its own modeling shows that some of these cells will short-circuit. It’s also possible that sitting or bending down with the phone in your pocket causes the problem in certain cases.
The recall is currently expected to cost Samsung about $2 billion. The company recently sold holdings in ASML, Seagate, Rambus, and Sharp to raise a total of $891 million to help pay for the Note 7 recall. Sales are expected to resume in Korea on September 28, with no word on when they’ll pick up again in other markets.
Meanwhile, Apple fans are still queuing up for the iPhone 7, while Samsung is left without a credible alternative story to pitch. Watching various reactions to problems with Apple’s touch disease, Samsung’s recall, and the general battle between iOS and Android fans, I seriously wonder if there’s much point to rushing forward in an attempt to beat the competition. The smartphone market is saturated in the United States. It’s split primarily between Samsung and Apple, with companies like HTC and LG nibbling at the edges. Microsoft and BlackBerry are no longer on the radar.
When Android and iOS were new, it made sense for Apple and Samsung to try and snipe each other’s customers. Today, how many people are honestly interested in switching between one OS or the other? Not many, I think — and that means it may behoove Samsung to spend more time pleasing its existing faithful, as opposed to trying to hit meaningless launch windows that aren’t going to actually persuade people to switch.
As a long-time iOS user who isn’t very happy with the iPhone 7, the phone I’d buy to replace my aging iPhone 5c (were I in the market) is probably an iPhone SE, not a Samsung device. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Samsung and I’ve used Android before — I simply prefer Apple and small, one-handed devices. Android’s relentless push towards big screens means I’m not particularly interested in most of the Android hardware out there. Combine the familiarity bias with intrinsic device differences, and I think chasing customers in the hopes of converting them is a fool’s errand.