What's been rumbling around in Daniel's brain this week.
Odd, I know, but it was only this week the Galaxy Note 7 was officially recalled in the U.S. It's a strange thing to write after spending what seems like the past month typing that same sentence, but what was presumed and informal was made concrete on Thursday after the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued its decree.
Now, along with Korea and my home country of Canada (the phone was not launched in Europe before a voluntary stop-sell was issued on September 1), Note 7 replacements should be on their way to consumers in the next week. Great.
We've talked about the recall at length — from the middling initial response, to the nearly 100 victims themselves, to the long-term effects on Samsung's brand — and will continue to do so. But the one query that really stuck with me through all of this, which few people are talking about, is whether this very public process will give people some perspective on just how complex is the manufacturing, marketing, and selling of piece of technology like a phone.
What I want to know is whether this very public process will give people some perspective on just how complex is the manufacturing, marketing, and selling of piece of technology like a phone.
We're more than 10 years into this computer-in-a-pocket revolution (though some ardent BlackBerry and Windows Mobile loyalists will argue it's been longer) and, like most things in our lives we take for granted, we are largely blind to how the so-called sausage is made. Vertically integrated companies like Samsung, Apple, and LG are able to perform feats of manufacturing magic that few others can achieve, but even they rely on outside vendors for essential components — such as batteries.
Samsung SDI, the company that manufactured roughly 65% of the batteries inside the Note 7 (and reportedly all of the defective ones), may share a first name with the company from which you buy your phones, but it operates independently. Samsung has similar relationships with many Korean vendors, but also sources a number of its components from companies you and I have likely never heard of.
The push to increase vertical integration is as much about quality control and oversight as it is about cost savings. If Samsung Electronics designed and manufactured its batteries, displays, processors, cameras, and a dozen other minor components that go into its phones, it would have a considerably closer understanding of everything that goes into its flagship products. It's already halfway there — Samsung already creates some of its processors and cameras, and all of its displays. But even the biggest tech companies in the world struggle to do this at scale. Which is what lead us to the Note 7 battery recall in the first place.
At the same time, we're seeing Apple emerge with the iPhone 7 in, for all intents and purposes, its third iteration of a well-worn design. But the implication that the company merely removed the headphone jack and adjusted some antenna lines (and on the larger model added a second camera) misses the same point that Samsung has been trying to make with its flagship line since 2015: evolution is the new normal.
The push to increase vertical integration is as much about quality control and oversight as it is about cost savings.
We're in an era of unprecedented innovation from a hardware perspective, but there are some known quantities, and design is one of them. Do you really want change for change's sake? Even Samsung realized that it leaned too hard in that direction with the Galaxy S7 edge, further tightening the curved glass on the Note 7 to make it more usable. Samsung, like Apple, wants you to be able to immediately identify one of its phones in a crowd. That recognition takes years to achieve, and it starts with a distinct, consistent design.
That's why I want Samsung to come back from this. It will, I know, but I really want its next move to blow us out of the water. OK, that's maybe the wrong idiom to use in this case, but you get the idea. Samsung has an opportunity to prove us all wrong, to be the most upstanding, mature, apologetic technology company in history. To take the criticisms to heart; to compensate people for their inconvenience and, in some cases, their misforurtune. It mustn't let class-action lawsuits pile up and lead to protracted, miserly wrangling over settlements. In short, it must be good before it can be right.
And now, this:
- I've been playing with a bunch of $400 phones lately, including the excellent OnePlus 3 and Honor 8, and this week I'm looking at the incredible Moto Z Play, which is far better than its spec sheet would suggest.
- That means it's getting far more difficult to justify spending $700 on a new phone.
- Alexa is coming to more things, and for less money. Amazon has such a head start in the living room that it's hard to see Google make any inroads, even if Home is a far better product — which it should be.
- I'm super happy with our new news brief product. What a relief to finally ship that after a frustrating false start. One day I'll tell you the story — it's all about brilliant people trying to solve a problem through iteration. Really proud of the team, especially Alex Dobie, who prototyped it and put it all together.
- We're also starting to publish a lot of stuff that probably wouldn't have been welcome on the site a couple of years ago. I understand some people are frustrated by the diluting of core Android content here, but deal with it: This is happening. Everything is mobile, and our Android phones are at the center. These posts are out of place only if you're unwilling to expand the definition of what Android Central is, and will become.
- Speaking of Android Adjacent, I think I'm going to pick me up a PS4 Pro when it ships in November.
- Another thing that happened last week? I picked up a Jet Black iPhone 7. My thoughts are coming, but I think it can be a great phone for people in the Google ecosystem. Google makes top-notch iOS apps, and there's no reason you can't be both a fan of Apple and Google. And that glossy finish is super slick — and scratch-prone.
- Not a fan of the iPhone, but still want a kick-ass unlocked phone? We still like the Galaxy S7 best. Just to bring things full circle.
- Oh, and I agree with Andrew on this one.
Be safe out there, folks. Have a great week!