A skittish Samsung in resurgence

Above: Samsung_DeX: Samsung’s Director of Strategy Suzanne De Silva and John Wong explain DeX, a device that turns the company’s smartphones into a desktop system. Photo courtesy Samsung.

BitDepth#1087 for April 04, 2017

Here’s a heretical thought. Samsung, the leading brand in Android based smartphones, needed the car crash that was the Note 7 debacle.

For almost two years, I’d had contact with the company’s regional officers and seen the company in action at two major international launches and describing it as stretched thin would be an understatement.

Few of same people would remain in charge of the same things more than once in my experience before internal upheavals brought a new lineup of faces to the plush demonstration tables and modernist podiums.

The exploding Note 7 – let’s just deal with that bear in the room right up front – brought all that to a screeching halt.

Faced with a brand disaster like that, one that led to the unprecedented ban of a specific model of smartphones on airlines by the FCC, there are really only two things you can do. Be upfront and vocal about the issue and explain it every step of the way or be very quiet and withdraw the product and any hint of an aggressive market presence.

Regrettably, Samsung chose the latter. The company all but stopped talking about its phones and when some of its washing machines started exploding, it pretty much stopped talking altogether.

At CES in Las Vegas in January, I walked through the company’s large blue presence and almost couldn’t find its line of phones.

An explanation of the catastrophic battery failures eventually appeared on the company’s website, but it was so late in coming, that it was virtually useless.

The Note series, I believe, is now a poisoned brand and I’d be shocked if the company put any effort into putting a new iteration of it on the market.

Locally, Samsung branded outlets at Westmall, Trincity and Gulf City quietly folded up their bunting to be replaced by bold green and the bmobile paperclip logo. No explanation for this was forthcoming from either TSTT or Samsung, even after a direct question was put to both companies. It just happened.

So last week’s launch of the new S series device, the S8, was a significant reboot for the company, even as it executed the tongue twisting effort of touting an “Unboxed” phone at an Unpacked event.

The new Samsung S8 has the svelte screen smarts of the Edge series. Photo courtesy Samsung. Click to Enlarge

The company’s President of Mobile Business, DJ Koh, summed it up with his opening words to an audience live in New York and linked via streamed video to an equally large group in London.

“It has been a challenging year for Samsung.”

His address hit many of the right PR buttons, emphasising “products you trust” and highlighting a refreshed emphasis on “quality, safety and craftsmanship.”

In his closing remarks, Koh offered the closest thing to a personal apology to its customers yet, saying with the slightest of bows, “We are honoured that millions of people around the world trust Samsung Galaxy phones to organise their lives, save their memories and manage their work.”

“We must be bold enough to step into the unknown, and humble enough to learn from our mistakes. This is how new doors are opened.”

Between those opening and closing statements, the company introduced the new S8, a device that cleverly merges the company’s experiments with curving its front screen with the Edge series of devices with an even bolder attempt at trimming the upper and lower bezels of the phone.

The result is a phone that offers the illusion of having only a slim top and bottom on its face (the home button is now virtual), the screen edges disappearing into the hand that’s holding it.

With this move, it’s pretty safe to assume that the Edge series is dead, because both the S8 and the larger S8 Plus boast the new “Infinity Display” as standard kit.

Samsung’s S7 was already a boss phone on it’s own, with an excellent camera that remains unchanged in the new device, so many of the upgrades in the S8 are incremental beyond the new screen design.

The company has teamed with speaker design company AKG to offer bespoke earbuds that remain wired but promise improvements in audio fidelity.

A new digital assistant, Bixby seeks to carve out its own space in a world of Cortana and Siri. How that works out will depend on what happens with the new artificial intelligence product faces down its users (more device details here).

Ancillary product focused heavily on the emerging VR and 360 degree image capture fields; a sector that’s lurching toward popularity with ungainly steps.

In addition to delivering hardware supporting both technologies, Samsung signalled a willingness to get involved in creating and supporting the creation of product for these devices, which may promise a long overdue kickstart to their potential.

The hashtag for the S8 launch was #dowhatyoucant, a reference to the company’s dedication to making the impossible possible through technology. It’s taken the first step by dusting off the ashes of 2016. There may never be another Note, but Samsung isn’t done raising the smartphone game with its smartphones.