Will there be a Galaxy Note 8? Should there be?
The Galaxy Note 7 is dead. It's been hard to miss the unceasing flow of news since replacement units began catching fire despite Samsung's assurances that they were using battery cells from different suppliers than the original 2.5 million that were recalled in early September.
So now Samsung has several priorities, both short-term and long-term. It must once again work with various regulators to retrieve all Note 7s, old batch and new. And then it must figure out what the heck went wrong.
The former task will be a lot easier than the latter. It's clear the problem is greater (and bigger) than just the battery cells stuffed inside the shiny new phones, so now Samsung has to investigate whether the problem was endemic in the design of the phone itself. Some pundits, like WSJ's Joanna Stern assert, perhaps correctly, that Samsung's relentless drive to achieve more in less time was the phone's ultimate downfall — bigger battery cells squeezed into increasingly thin cases, with charging standards meant to push the erratic molecules back and forth at ever-faster rates. That it found an opportunity to finally trounce Apple in all areas and, in pushing suppliers, may not have performed the requisite quality control at every level necessary for a piece of technology that is essentially a battery with a screen.
Samsung tried to stuff too much into the phone, and failed.
If every Note 7 became incendiary the same way — turned on, while charging, using the supplied AC adapter, for instance — it would be a lot easier to diagnose the problem. A Bloomberg report highlighted initial submissions to regulators in Asia, noting, "The initial conclusions indicated an error in production that put pressure on plates within the battery cells. That in turn brought negative and positive poles into contact, triggering excessive heat that caused the battery to explode." A Consumer Product Safety Commission investigation said it more bluntly: the batteries were too big for the phone.
In other words, Samsung tried to stuff too much into the phone, and failed. It speaks to Samsung's desire to over deliver with every release, to one-up not only its competitors but itself, time and time again. It's an ambitious goal, unmatched by any other company in the technology space. And now that goal has to be set aside while Samsung sublimates itself to a fickle industry willing to move onto the next big thing more quickly than at any time in history.
Surely, even as Samsung was about to release the Galaxy Note 7 it was already well into the design and prototyping stages of its flagship Galaxy S8. How the cancellation of the Note 7 will affect its most important product remains to be seen, but this situation has reportedly disoriented the company's insulated management, causing some reshuffling and likely exits. Samsung's top brass, based in South Korea, is not as recognizable to North American audiences as a Tim Cook or Elon Musk, but many in the top echelons wield just as much power, and the new mobile chief, D.J. Koh, may be forced to step down or resign from this fiasco.
Most importantly, Samsung needs to prove to its worldwide audience that it has taken steps not just to fix the battery fires, but to reinforce its dedication to safety above all else.
Perhaps most importantly, Samsung needs to prove to its heterogenous worldwide audience that it has taken steps not just to fix the cause of the battery fires, but to reinforce its dedication to safety above all else. You can be certain that at the next launch event, Samsung will spend more time on ensuring the tech media of its products' safety than the speed at which they charge.
It would also behoove Samsung to get better at saying sorry, to really understand the level of frustration and even trauma this has caused for its loyal customer base. To that people affected by the fires, Samsung needs to go above and beyond, not just by replacing their phones but offering to pay for any medical procedures, physical or mental, that should be needed.
So the question is, will you be willing to put everything aside, trust Samsung again and purchase a Galaxy Note 8 — or whatever it will be called — if the company chooses to make it?