The Samsung Note 7 is no longer in production. After several units caught fire for reasons that are still unclear, Samsung halted its supply chain to figure out where it’s all going wrong. That decision may affect developers, too.
Soon after the device rolled out to widespread adoration and fanfare, reports of Note 7s catching fire began popping up. At first, it seemed like an isolated case or two. Then it kept happening.
After its initial recall, Samsung announced a second one in coordination with government agencies. It proclaimed replacement phones as safe to use, but owners quickly found out that wasn’t the case.
The scariest incident occurred on a Southwest Airlines flight; just before takeoff on the morning of October 5, a passenger’s Note 7 began smoking and burned through the carpet and into the sub-flooring of the aircraft. After de-boarding, the passengers were placed on a different plane, but the physical and metaphorical damage had been done to Samsung’s brand.
Samsung’s initial response to the incident on the plane was something you’d expect from a company which hadn’t seen its phones burst before: “Until we are able to retrieve the device, we cannot confirm that this incident involves the new Note7.”
Then things got worse. Rather than handle refund requests itself, Samsung has reportedly outsourced that vital function to a third-party company. After reports of one customer’s disjointed email thread regarding a refund, Samsung admitted it has “limited information on a lot of the process at this time.”
Samsung Developers May Think Twice
This situation is problematic for developers, too. Android OEMs such as Samsung and LG try to follow Apple down the lock-in rabbit’s hole by creating their own developer programs. These programs tie directly into the hardware the companies create, just as Apple does with the iPhone and iPad. For Android OEMs, it all comes down to staking a claim to a proprietary version of open-source software.
Samsung’s developer program has SDKs for creating apps that take advantage of the curved screen edges, S-Pen and sensors found on Galaxy devices. Those SDKs are limited to its devices, and meant as a means for developers to create unique experiences on one of the most widely used platforms in mobile technology.
But when that hardware starts bursting into flames, it’s reasonable that developers will start to question why they should invest time in the platform. Imagine working to manicure a unique Edge Look experience for a curved screen only to see your work fall on deaf ears as the company controlling the platform has a widespread issue. More to the point, will customers willingly spend money on apps for a phone they may not even be able to keep?
And that effect is lasting. The Samsung name is now synonymous with exploding phones, warranted or not: the next time people hear ‘Galaxy (fill-in-the-blank),’ they’ll immediately think about all of the news items surrounding the Note 7. A number of them may look to another brand of phone.
Given that many users will stay with Samsung, the above is not a doomsday scenario. The company also has several other smartphones that aren’t involved in the current controversy. The Galaxy S7 is a sensational device, but it’s being drowned by bad Note 7 press.
What we don’t know is how long it will take for Samsung to recover. Logically, this issue will follow it through the next upgrade cycle and into the Note 9, which seems like forever in the world of mobile hardware. It’s even longer when considering software, which can be iterated on much faster.
Luckily, developers are a bit more nimble. Samsung has a great developer program, but investing time and resources into it at this juncture is a tricky proposition. Creating experiences for devices that risk being recalled is likely not worth the effort, and Samsung hasn’t handled this situation gracefully, leading to a hit on its entire brand.