Samsung says sorry, but road to redemption won’t be Note7 perfect

12 Oct 2016

Samsung has apologised for the Note7 fiery phone fiasco. But will that be enough? Image: Photomans/Shutterstock

Samsung has apologised to the public for the Note7 fiery phone fiasco, but how the brand acquits itself in the months ahead will echo for all eternity.

First of all, Samsung is sorry. But it was also quick to add that the Note7 was the only Samsung device affected by the battery recall issue.

It is easy to imagine the howls of laughter that might have emanated from Cupertino, home to Samsung’s deadliest rival Apple, as Samsung’s launch of the Note7 went from glitzy triumph to tawdry car crash.

‘To all of our Galaxy Note7 customers, we are truly sorry that we have not met the high standard that you expect from Samsung’

But I don’t believe there is any gloating in Cupertino. If anything, what happened to Samsung should strike terror in the hearts of any tech company trying to mastermind the complexities of bringing a piece of hardware to market.

Responsible minds must surely be thinking: “There, but for the grace of God, go I …”

In a nutshell, Samsung launched a flagship device in August, a phablet called the Note7, and it was a huge hit. Over 2.5m of the devices shipped within weeks and the company was straining to keep up with demand.

But suddenly, reports emerged of Note7 devices catching fire and Samsung acquitted itself honourably in recalling and replacing the devices.

Samsung shouted stop

The ultimate humiliation this week had to be either Samsung flacks accidentally sending the wrong emails to a punter, to stall him making the replacement Note7 catching fire public at the weekend; or the fact that airlines were telling passengers to make sure their Note7 was switched off. Actually, maybe it was the evacuation of an airplane after a Note7 device started smoking that was the lowest moment.

Samsung this week halted manufacture of the Note7 because the battery cell issue causing it to catch fire was not eradicated. This was after carriers in the US and Europe stopped selling the troubled device.

If you know Korean companies, then you know they are quite serious places and you can only imagine the internal turmoil.

Samsung advised owners of Note7 models to turn the device off, for safety’s sake.

“To all of our Galaxy Note7 customers, we are truly sorry that we have not met the high standard that you expect from Samsung. We thank you for your patience during this time, and apologise for the inconvenience we have caused,” the company said in a statement released overnight.

Samsung is working to put in place a replacement programme to exchange the Note7 for a Galaxy S7 or S7 edge, and owners will be refunded the difference in price. Alternatively, they can obtain a full refund.

Samsung now has the unenviable task of rebuilding its brand.

It has been a long, long road for the Samsung brand. In 2006/2007 Samsung made pretty cheap, plasticky mobile devices. Apple wowed the world with the iPhone, but at that time Nokia and BlackBerry were the industry leaders.

But as Google burst onto the scene with Android, Samsung was one of the first out of the blocks. It found its feet and its devices became more high-end and expensive, with the Galaxy fleet of devices leading the charge.

Patent wars with Apple were joined with sufficient indignation and a recent spell of bad financial luck appeared to be coming to an end, as Samsung roared back into profitability and rediscovered its mojo.

The Note7 was meant to be the symbol of the Samsung brand’s return to good fortune.

The company now has its work cut out to discover what precisely went wrong with the Note7’s battery.

It will have to examine all of its processes from the manufacture of the device; from the initial sublime replacement programme to the PR nightmare that eventually unfolded.

In the months ahead, Samsung will have to work very hard to regain its good name as a reliable, safe hardware brand.

If there is one hope for Samsung, it is the fact that the tech punter has a very short memory when it comes to shiny things.

Roll on 2018, when the company will reveal some signature new devices at Mobile World Congress.

But that is months away and Samsung will have to put the shine back on a tarnished brand.

Even if the punter forgets when they hold aloft a new product next year, how Samsung acquits itself in the coming months by restoring faith and managing a difficult situation will be telling for the overall tech industry where talent and brand go hand in hand.

Samsung Note7.  Image: Photoman/Shutterstock


John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years