Samsung's exploding smartphone nightmare is getting even worse

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Samsung just can’t catch a break.

A month ago, the South Korean electronics company was in a pretty bad place.

It had been forced to initiate a global recall of its new flagship phone, the Galaxy Note 7 — because dozens of customers’ devices had exploded, allegedly injuring children, destroying cars, and gutting hotel rooms.

Compounding matters, the billion-dollar disaster came as arch rival Apple launched its latest competing premium smartphone, the iPhone 7.

This was, I wrote at the time, “Samsung’s nightmare scenario.”

Well, now it has got even worse.

Replacement devices may also be affected

Samsung has been issuing replacement devices to customers who bought potentially faulty Galaxy Note 7 phones, which — supposedly — have fixed the faulty battery problem.

But a Note 7 recently started smoking uncontrollably on a flight before take-off, forcing the cabin crew to evacuate the plane — and the family that owned it said it was a replacement device, according to a report from Reuters.

Samsung says it needs more information before it can comment further, telling Business Insider: “Until we are able to retrieve the device, we cannot confirm that this incident involves the new Note7. 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.”

But tech site The Verge ran the phone in question’s IMEI code through Samsung’s checker, which said the phone should not have been affected by the recall, and the phone’s packaging also indicated it was a replacement device.

If this is a replacement device, and it is also affected by the battery fault, then this is a screw-up of colossal proportions.

One recall is costing Samsung billions and making it the butt of jokes; a second recall right after could cause massive, long-term damage to the company’s brand.

Airlines are already warning passengers not to use Note 7 devices mid-flight; if Samsung can’t be trusted to fix catastrophic (and potentially fatal) problems, it’s not inconceivable that some airlines might choose to ban the brand’s device altogether rather than run the risk.

And that’s not the only problem.

Note 7 meltedBaidu/Mr. Ni66666An exploded Samsung Galaxy Note 7 (not the one from the plane).

Google might be about to eat Samsung’s dinner

This week, Google announced its Pixel smartphone.

It’s a sleek, premium device clearly intended to go head-to-head with other handset manufacturers at the high-end of the market, like Apple’s iPhone — and Samsung.

The launch was peppered with with sly digs and jokes at Apple’s expense, on everything from the camera bump on the iPhone 7 to its lack of headphone jack. And at £599 in the UK for the smaller, 32GB model, it has exactly the same base pricepoint.

But Samsung might prove the most fertile ground for Google to steal customers from.

After all, switching from one mobile platform (iOS) to another (Android) is a pretty big deal. You need to port over all your data, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get all the apps you want. But Samsung customers are already using Android, and they’re already used to paying high prices for a premium device.

If you’ve historically been a Samsung customer, and you’re in the market for a new phone, what are you going to do? Go for the phone that’s exploding left-right-and-centre — or the flashy new Google phone that’s running the same underlying software?

Android smartphone makers have always struggled to differentiate themselves from their competitors, because they’re all running the exact same operating system.

For Samsung’s Galaxy line, the answer has historically been to market them as high-end, reliable devices — the iPhone for people who don’t want an iPhone. But now Google is barging into the space, and its phones won’t stop exploding, that’s going to be a whole lot harder to sell to customers.

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