Samsung’s Confusing Mobile Strategy

Samsung has been dominating cell phone news for months. The trend started with the fiery demise of the Galaxy Note 7 — which some readers may remember suffered from a series of catastrophic battery problems. The company exacerbated the problem by failing to issue a timely recall or provide an adequate explanation for the defective units. Meanwhile highly public cases of melting or exploding phones resulted in confusion as consumers began to associate the defect with Samsung phones in general. Just when everything seemed to be fixed, recalled phones were replaced with new models that sometimes suffered a separate manufacturing defect which also caused the battery to explode. In the end, Samsung completely recalled the Note 7. Undoubtedly the affair cost them millions of dollars, in addition to dealing substantial damage to the reputation of Samsung phones. It was expected that Samsung would have to provide an excellent device for their next release.

Fast forward to this month. In just a few days Samsung will be officially releasing the Galaxy S8. The phone has leaked so heavily that the features are generally known. These include a larger screen than the S7 which is accomplished by shrinking the bezels and moving the fingerprint sensor to the back of the device. The phone is otherwise expected to be fairly similar to last year’s Galaxy S7. The only other two stand-out differences that are known strike me as a bit underwhelming. The first is yet another digital assistant with the rather unfortunate name of Bixby. Samsung has stated that this assistant will be used as an additional way to navigate the interface of the phone. Anything that can be done by touch will also supposedly be able to be done by voice. This is dependent, however, on third party support and will only work with a select set of Samsung apps at launch. The other feature is a dock that will allow the phone to be used in a desktop environment. This will almost certainly be a terrible substitute for an actual desktop — Google has struggled for years to make Android apps useful on larger screens.

Even with the S8 fast approaching we still have not heard the last of the Note 7. Citing environmental concerns, Samsung has stated that they intend to release refurbished Note 7 devices to the public. The phones will not be sold in the United States but will be available for other markets at some point in the future. With this final announcement, Samsung has set the stage for an important week. Following a long saga of a disastrous phone launch and recall, Samsung has placed their bets on a questionable voice assistant named Bixby, a desktop dock, and the eventual re-launch of the very phone that started their bad publicity to begin with. All of which begs the question — what exactly is Samsung’s mobile strategy at this point?

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