Samsung’s problems with the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone didn’t stop at a global recall after several models of the phone exploded.
The company is facing a growing backlash from Chinese customers and even the country’s government after it refused to recall the phone there.
China is a lucrative market for smartphone manufacturers, and Apple is doing all it can to gain market share there. There was a time last year when Apple was opening a new Apple Store in China every week.
But Samsung is struggling to gain a foothold in China, with one estimate pegging its share of the Chinese smartphone market at 7.7%, down from 12.8% a year ago.
So Samsung really needed to get the launch of its latest phone right in China. Leaks hinted that the Chinese release of the Galaxy Note 7 would come with 6GB of RAM, not the 4GB that would be made available elsewhere. There were even photos of the alleged box that appeared to show it. However, when Samsung released the phone in China, the 6GB version was nowhere to be seen.
That’s not a major problem. Some Chinese tech fans were excited by the idea of a better phone, but in the end it didn’t pan out. No big deal.
Then the phones started exploding
But that wasn’t the biggest issue with the Galaxy Note 7, of course. Soon after its release in the US, customers started complaining that the phone would overheat or even explode after being charged. A six-year-old boy was reportedly injured by one device exploding, and a man in Florida claimed his Jeep Grand Cherokee was destroyed in a fire caused by his Galaxy Note 7.
Samsung collected the damaged phones for testing and delayed shipments of the device, but it eventually decided to issue a global recall for the Galaxy Note 7 to prevent further incidents. That’s an incredibly costly move, and a last resort for the company.
But the global recall wasn’t quite as global as you might think. Samsung insists that Galaxy Note 7 phones sold in China aren’t affected by the battery issue. It uses several suppliers, it says, and the issue was only caused by one of the suppliers’ components that isn’t included in smartphones shipped to China.
It looks like it’s happening in China too
If that was the end of the exploding phones then Samsung’s drama in China would have stopped at teasing an upgraded phone and then failing to release it. But there have been reports of Galaxy Note 7 phones exploding in China as well — even though Samsung said they’re unaffected by the battery issue.
Bloomberg reports that a customer named Hui Renjie bought a new Galaxy Note 7 online and it was delivered over the weekend. On Monday morning the device “exploded”. Samsung has now collected the phone and taken it away for tests.
“We are currently contacting the customer and will conduct a thorough examination of the device in question once we receive it,” Samsung told Business Insider in a statement. The refusal to recall Galaxy Note 7 phones in China has reportedly angered some Chinese social media users.
“Samsung doesn’t dare raise a fuss overseas but in China as soon as explosions are mentioned they blame other people,” one user said, according to BBC News.
Now the Chinese government has become involved
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV has weighed in on the exploding phone scandal, accusing Samsung of “discrimination” and acting in a way that is “full of arrogance.” The broadcaster is angry that Samsung publicly apologised to the US over the exploding phones, but it only issued a short statement in China explaining that any overheating phones in the country weren’t its fault.
CCTV is one of the Chinese government’s “big three” official mouthpieces that it uses to signal its policies to citizens. It’s unlikely that any op-ed (like the one published regarding Samsung) would make it to CCTV’s site without the company checking that it meets the government’s line.
There’s more evidence that the Chinese government is upset with Samsung. Asia News Network reports that a Chinese government office in Chengdu, Sichuan province, banned workers from even using Galaxy Note 7 phones in the office. The office also announced that it would not allow people to charge their Galaxy Note 7 outside in a dedicated recharging space for visitors. “If visitors are found recharging Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones, you should persuade them to stop,” the office said (although it later walked back that policy).
This saga has been a nightmare for Samsung, which desperately needed the Galaxy Note 7 to be a hit in China. It’s losing market share to Apple and other manufacturers, so it needed to make the new phone stick. The rumoured upgraded version of the phone was a start (even if it didn’t pan out). But its refusal to recall its phones in China has been seen as an insult to the country — even if it turns out that they’re not actually faulty.
Samsung may not have done anything wrong in China, but it has spent so long panicking over its issues in the US that Chinese customers felt slighted. The company has now issued an apology for causing “confusion and unease” in China, but it’s likely to have done lasting damage to its reputation in China.
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