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The Verge 2016 tech report card: Samsung

Samsung has always had a history of ups and downs, and that was none more evident than in 2016. The year started out remarkably strong for the company, and it put out impressive products that turned out to be huge hits with the buying public. But Samsung pushed its luck and got burned — literally.

Samsung came out the gate running in 2016 with its Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, launched in March. The pair proved to be the best smartphones Samsung had ever made, complete with great design, class-leading cameras, long battery life, and stunning displays. Samsung even brought back fan-favorite features that were dropped from prior phones, such as water resistance and expandable memory.

As a result, the S7 line took off like a rocket, making up for Samsung’s disappointing performance with the S6 and even surpassing the iPhone in sales in competitive markets such as the US. By the middle of the summer, it seemed Samsung could do no wrong.

Samsung was ready to repeat its S7 success in the fall with the Note 7, a beautifully designed phone that would go head to head with Apple’s next iPhone. The Note 7 took everything that was great about the S7 line and made it better: refined design, better software, improved performance. It launched to rave reviews in August, beat the new iPhone to market, and by all accounts, looked like it would sit comfortably at the top of the smartphone rankings for 2016.

And then the Note 7 began catching fire and blowing up. Accounts became so frequent and numerous that the company was forced to recall all 2.5 million phones that had been shipped by early September. Confident that it had identified and resolved the problem, Samsung put the Note 7 back up for sale a few weeks later. The supposedly fixed phones started exploding again.

Samsung was ultimately forced recall and cancel the Note 7 entirely. It gained the distinction of being the first company to have its phone banned from flights by the FAA and other safety agencies around the world.

The company’s woes were not confined to just the fact that the Note 7 was defective and had to be recalled. Rather, it was how Samsung handled the recall that was most troubling. It took weeks for the company to acknowledge the problem and issue a formal recall, and even then it was still opaque about what was causing the issue. (Further hampering Samsung’s public image was a recall for exploding washing machines. Though not related to the company’s mobile or electronics division, the machines had the same brand and logo as every other Samsung product made.) To this day, the company still hasn’t officially said what caused the Note 7 to explode, though plenty of theories have been floated.

For 2017, Samsung is going to have work exceptionally hard to build back the trust it lost. At the same time, it’s going to have to continue to innovate and stay ahead of the increasingly tough competition if it hopes to regain its status. We’ll be watching, but perhaps from a distance, and with a fire extinguisher nearby.

Verge 2016 Report Card: Samsung

C-
2016 Grade

Gold Stars:

  • Great design
  • Compelling products

Needs Improvement:

  • Don’t let products explode
  • Communicate better


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