Requiem for a phablet — a timeline of the rise and fall of the Galaxy Note 7
The Galaxy Note 7 was the best phone available when it was released in August. A culmination of all of the company’s strongest technologies to date, coupled with some fascinating new arrivals, Samsung somehow made the whole thing work in harmony, fit into a beautifully crafted 5.7-inch design.
Two months later, the Galaxy Note 7 is dead, marking, perhaps, the most abrupt and spectacular fall for a major company flagship of the smartphone era. It’s been a long, drawn out PR nightmare for a product that was supposed to unify the company’s mobile offerings behind a single banner, marked by mixed signals, damage control and a seemingly endless parade of bad news culminating in this morning’s announcement that the hardware maker would finally shut down production once and for all.
Given the speed and breadth of the saga, let’s break down the past couple of months now that our long international hardware night seems to finally be at an end.
August 2: Samsung unveils the Galaxy Note 7 at its Unpacked event in New York City, along with the latest version of the Gear VR headset. At the time of launch, the most talked about element of the product is, perhaps, Samsung’s decision to go straight from the Galaxy Note 5 to 7, as a sort of symbolic unification across its mobile line, borrowing design language from the well-received S7 and S7 Edge.
August 16: The first reviews of the handset go live and reviewers go ga-ga. We were suitably impressive by the phone, noting the company’s commendable ability to build upon its mobile devices’ impressive feature set, while maintaining a consistent and aesthetically pleasing product. Though, of course, such things didn’t come cheap, with unlocked pricing in the mid-to-high $800 range.
August 19: After opening up for pre-order on the 3rd, the device is now officially on-sale in North America. In Samsung’s home country, things are going swimmingly with around 200,000 units pre-ordered in two days — a record breaking pace for the country. Demand in other countries leads to shortages in some territories.
August 31: Less than two weeks after release, Samsung reportedly suspends shipments of the device, due to multiple reports of devices catching fire. The news is certainly a blow for the company, particularly as Apple is prepping its own number 7 flagship, but full panic mode has not set in yet. After all, phones bursting into flames is, sadly, not unprecedented, and can often be chalked up to something as benign as a faulty cable. The same day, Samsung debuts its new smartwatch during an awkward press conference at IFA in Berlin. For now, it’s business as usual.
September 1: One day later, the company confirms suspicions that it is looking into a handful of reports about problematic phones, telling TechCrunch, “In response to questions on Galaxy Note7, we are conducting a thorough inspection. We will share the findings as soon as possible. Samsung is fully committed to providing the highest quality products to our consumers.” That language will become awfully familiar in the days and weeks to come.
September 2: The good news: Samsung has sold 2.5 million Galaxy Note 7 devices. The bad news: it’s going to have to replace all of them. The company institutes an unofficial recall, citing 35 reported cases of battery issues. Samsung promises more details around its replacement program and offers an apology of sorts, “We acknowledge the inconvenience this may cause in the market but this is to ensure that Samsung continues to deliver the highest quality products to our customers. We are working closely with our partners to ensure the replacement experience is as convenient and efficient as possible.”
Later that same day, the company reveals the details of its US exchange program, promising a replacement, “as early as next week.”
September 8: Following more details around the expansiveness (and expensiveness) of the exchange program, the FAA gets involved, warning passengers against flying with the device. “n light of recent incidents and concerns raised by Samsung about its Galaxy Note 7 devices, the Federal Aviation Administration strongly advises passengers not to turn on or charge these devices on board aircraft and not to stow them in any checked baggage,” the regulatory body wrote in a statement. Suddenly it’s impossible to fly anywhere in the country without a flight attendant warning you about exploding phones. As we noted at the time, the FAA didn’t release that strongly worded a statement when hoverboards starting having their own explosive issues.
September 9: The following day, things get even more official as the US Consumer Product Safety Commission weighs in on the matter and announces that it’s looking into the efficacy of the company’s self-imposed exchange program, explaining that it is, “working quickly to determine whether a replacement Galaxy Note7 is an acceptable remedy for Samsung or their phone carriers to provide to consumers.” Five days later, New York City’s MTA issues its own warning for subways and buses.
September 15: The CPSC’s recall is now officially official, with the committee, “urging all consumers to take advantage of this recall right away.” The officially sanctioned recall program is to be instated on the 21st. A day later, the FAA will offer up an even more strongly worded warning about the troubled handset.
September 20: Replacement devices start hitting stores, identifiable by a green battery icon (to the original’s white) and black square on the rear of the box. Around 500,000 new units have been disseminated to retail locations. Two days later, the company announces that around half of the Note 7 units in the US have been exchanged. Another five days later, the total number for the US and Korea combined is around 60-percent, seemingly indicating a slowing down of exchanges. Surely this is the last we’ll be hearing of all of this.
September 28: Um. Apparently Samsung’s washing machines are exploding now.
October 5: Here we go again. Another Note 7 exploded. Worse still: it happened on a plane (thankfully still at the gate). Worser still: it was reportedly powered off. Worsest still: it was one of the replacement models. “Until we are able to retrieve the device, we cannot confirm that this incident involves the new Note7,” the company explained, seemingly unconvinced (and, no doubt, exhausted). “We are working with the authorities and Southwest now to recover the device and confirm the cause. Once we have examined the device we will have more information to share.”
October 7: In the wake of new incidents, start offering exchanges for the device, one by one. First Sprint, then T-Mobile, then AT&T and Verizon.
October 8: The number of reported incidents around problematic replacement phones now numbers around half-a-dozen. Samsung responds with a statement that is concerned but still cagey, doubling down on its commitment to the CPSC’s investigation, apparently opting to hold out for official word this time out. “Samsung understands the concern our carriers and consumers must be feeling after recent reports have raised questions about our newly released replacement Note7 devices,” the company writes “We continue to move quickly to investigate the reported case to determine the cause and will share findings as soon as possible. ”
October 9: One by one, the major carriers halt sales of the handset. Samsung reportedly suspends production later confirming that it has “adjusted” things.
October 10: Samsung officially asks its retail partners to stop selling the Note 7.
October 11: Less than two months after going on sale, production and sales for the Galaxy Note 7 have been permanently discontinued. “For the benefit of consumers’ safety,” the company tells TechCrunch, “we stopped sales and exchanges of the Galaxy Note7 and have consequently decided to stop production.”
Samsung is no doubt eager to put this whole saga behind it and figure out what the future looks like for its badly damaged mobile device wing. But this likely isn’t the last we’ll hear about the Galaxy Note 7, with official word from the CPSC among others still forthcoming.