SEOUL: Samsung Electronics scrapped its flagship Galaxy Note 7 smartphone yesterday less than two months after its launch, dealing a huge blow to its reputation and outlook after failing to resolve safety concerns.
Samsung announced the recall of 2.5 million Note 7s in early September following numerous reports of the phones catching fire and yesterday it finally pulled the plug on the $882 device in what could be one of the costliest product safety failures in tech history.
The decision to scrap the Note 7 came after fresh reports of fires in replacement devices prompted new warnings from regulators, phone carriers and airlines.
“(We) have decided to halt production and sales of the Galaxy Note 7 to consider our consumers’ safety first and foremost,” the South Korean firm said.
Samsung said earlier it asked all global carriers to stop sales of the Note 7s and the exchange of original devices for replacements, while it worked with regulators to investigate the problem. The company is offering to exchange Note 7s for other products or refund them.
The decision to pull Note 7s off the shelves not only raises fresh doubts about the firm’s quality control but could result in huge financial and reputational costs.
Analysts say a permanent end to Note 7 sales could cost Samsung up to $17 billion and tarnish its other phone products in the minds of consumers and carriers.
Investors wiped nearly $20bn off Samsung Electronics’ market value yesterday as its shares closed down eight per cent, their biggest daily percentage decline since 2008.
“This is the first time that I have seen a product recall go this badly wrong,” financial analyst Richard Windsor said in a note to clients. “When it comes to the damage that it will do to Samsung’s brand, we are in uncharted territory”.
The premium device, launched in August, was supposed to compete with Apple’s latest iPhone for supremacy in the smartphone market. Well received by critics, its first problem was a shortage as pre-orders overwhelmed supply.
But within days of the launch, images of charred Note 7s began appearing on social media, in the first sign that something was seriously amiss with the gadget.
Samsung, the world’s top maker of smartphones, had nearly twice the global market share of Apple at mid-year, having shipped 77.6m phones in the second quarter alone, said Neil Mawston, an analyst at research firm Strategy Analytics.
The South Korean company was counting on the Note 7 to replace its previous flagship model, the Note 5, which had sold around 15m units over the four quarters ended in June, according to Strategy Analytics data. Instead, it will be forced to count on existing models such as its Galaxy S7 edge, which has a slightly smaller screen but is also slightly less expensive.
Samsung did not comment on whether it had identified the cause of the fires in the replacement devices, although officials in Seoul said it was looking at several possibilities including the batteries.
The void left by the demise of Samsung’s flagship phone leaves the door open to rivals like Apple, which last month introduced its latest iPhone 7 line and Google, which is set to launch its new Pixel phone later this month.
The most likely beneficiaries are other high-volume Asia-based makers of premium-priced phones based on Google’s Android operating system, Mawston said.
“The gap is likely to be filled by rivals including Apple and Google Pixel, although probably Oppo, Vivo, LG Electronics and Sony stand to benefit the most,” Mawston said.