A few weeks ago, I wrote how Samsung could rebound from the Note 7 scandal and save its brand. A big part of that, in my eyes, was to kill the Note brand entirely. The way I, and many others, see it there has been too much damage done to even think about releasing a follow up. But Samsung has a different idea.
Last week, reports surfaced that the company is not ready to call it quits on the line, one such report even suggesting that a launch for the Note 8 could come as early as CES 2017. Hopefully the company has enough foresight to see that that timeline is far too quick, and will instead opt for a more traditional, late 2017 release date.
Whenever it may happen, it’s likely we will get a Note in 2017. To some, not rebranding the line may come off as another misstep in the ongoing recall saga. But there are good reasons to keep the name alive, beginning with the device that started the whole mess.
I loved the Note 7. Loved it. It was easily the best phone I’ve used this year, though I have yet to try the Pixel or iPhone 7 personally, and one of the best phones I’ve ever used. The only thing holding it back from being absolute perfection was, as is often the case, Samsung’s custom software. But even that wasn’t enough to keep the phone from receiving a sparkling review.
I was crushed when the recall happened, and saddened further when it turned into a massive debacle that led to the death of the 7 for good. If Samsung is all in on keeping the name alive, the Note 8 has to be spectacular. Given how strong the 7 was before the exploding battery crisis, and the pressure put on by the crisis, the successor could shape up to be absurdly good.
The company does have to be careful, however. Refinement was a big word around the 7 and one of the reasons it was so well-received. The company can’t go overboard with a successor in an attempt to make up for its losses in 2016. It needs to be calculated about the next version, including great and interesting features, like the 7’s retina scanner, but can’t lose sight of what made the latest iteration so good.
Though it was a great device, there was no denying the Note 7 was a step away from its brethren. Once a phone for the power user, this year the line became a universal flagship, like Samsung’s other popular smartphone series. With the next iteration, the company has an opportunity to return the line to its roots, meaning souped-up specs and power user features like, say, a removable battery.
I don’t expect the company to include a removable battery, as it would mark a clear step backward in its thinking regarding high-end phones, but it could be a smart move. Though we’re still uncertain what caused the explosive nature of the Note 7, including a battery that could be swapped out might put consumer minds at ease. Then again, if a situation arises in which a consumer has to replace the battery because of a defect, Samsung may as well pack up its smartphone business for good.
Another plus of catering to the power user sector is that they are the largest group of consumers that will understand the difference between the Note 7 and 8. A large chunk of consumers don’t know or care about the difference between a Galaxy Note 7 and Galaxy S7, let alone a Galaxy Note 7 and Galaxy Note 8, a big reason why many believe the line should be rebranded. If the company can get in the good graces of those consumers that loved the device for what it first represented, that could help float sales for 2017 if the general public is still wary. Then in 2018, with a healthy removal from the 7 debacle, Samsung may be able to put the series officially back in good standing.
Many, myself included, have predicted the recall will have a massive effect on the company’s brand moving forward. But what if we’re overestimating the damage?
As Forbes recently noted, some analysts think the recall may be forgotten within six months, right around when Samsung should launch the S8 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. While I agree there has been a healthy amount of fresh tech news, as there always is this time of year, to help move the eye away from the death of the 7, I expect the storyline to reemerge once the company is primed to release a new device. This story was so big that it stretched far beyond the tech world, and the company releasing a new phone could very well be a huge story thanks to the history.
There is truth to the idea that the tech industry moves fast, however. Smartphone release cycles are very short, meaning that consumers are often looking ahead to the next big thing rather than behind at past failures. The analysts may be right, but there has also not been a disaster this size in the smartphone era. No one knows for certain what effect there will be beyond the current financial calendar, and no one will know until the S8 and Note 8.
Part of Samsung’s decision to keep the Note line alive feels emotional. The company may have the same group of heady analysts predicting the 7’s failure won’t cause a massive shift in how the Galaxy brand is viewed by the majority of the public, but there very well could also be an undercurrent of wanting to prove the 7 was a complete anomaly.
If it were just hoping to move the business past the recall, the shrewd move would be to rebrand. So why not bite the bullet and do so? Samsung clearly thinks there is still life left in the name, or it desperately wants to revive the brand it worked for years to build into one of the best names in the smartphone industry. Releasing a fabulous S8 that sells phenomenally would be a great first step for the company, but it won’t be able to fully redeem its image until next August, or whenever it releases the follow up. In order to regain the public’s trust the Note 8 must be an excellent, and exceptionally safe, device.
The devil’s advocate would point out here that the company made incorrect decision after incorrect decision during the recall process, and the choice to continue the line may just be the latest in a growing list of missteps. But maybe, just maybe, Samsung can silence the critics and redeem its good name by building an exceptional successor to the doomed Note 7.