Samsung avoids the explosive elephant in the room

Samsung avoids the explosive elephant in the room

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Samsung’s big Galaxy Unpacked event in New York City was focused squarely on unveiling the new Galaxy S8, but there was a specter hanging over the proceedings: the explosive legacy of the Galaxy Note 7.

The fate of the Note 7 is a topic Samsung hasn’t been able to shake, as much as the company hopes its impressive new generation of products could make everyone magically forget about it. The scope of its failure was unprecedented, making the Samsung brand a punchline and raising questions about production standards and how much control we really have over our precious smartphones.

So when Samsung’s parade of executives took the stage today to show off the S8, many expected there’d be some mention of the device, if even only in passing, to put its legacy to rest.

There was no mention of the Note 7. Nothing at all.

Sure, Samsung Mobile President DJ Koh was full of subtle, Note 7-referencing messaging, as he focused his opening statements on “important new beginnings” with “products that you trust,” and Samsung’s commitment to quality, safety and craftsmanship.

But when he started talking about how the company had developed the S8 by “overcoming obstacles” and being “humble enough to learn for our mistakes,” the time came for plainer talk. What obstacles and mistakes, exactly?

Similarly, when exec Justin Denison presented some more of the S8’s specs, he made no mention of the battery issues that plagued the Note 7 while touting the company’s new eight-point battery safety check.

You could argue that Samsung has addressed the issue enough to move beyond it with the Galaxy’s next generation. The Note 7 was going to be a tricky topic no matter what and Samsung has reportedly learned from its mistakes. But mentioning it specifically was important because the phone’s failure refuses to leave the news cycle.

Just this week, news broke that the last Note 7s left in service (mostly holdouts in South Korea) will finally be shut down with a software update. But Samsung did announce it will sell refurbished versions of the recalled devices in the future.

That effort is in part a response to environmental groups pressure to recycle the devices, which is in some sense noble, to be sure — but Samsung hasn’t yet outlined how the rereleased phones will be altered to avoid the fate of the original run. There might be a fix in place, as the Note 7 handsets we spotted in Samsung’s factory in South Korea suggest, but that remains a mystery until the company tells us more.

So the Note 7 isn’t really dead, and its final legacy hasn’t been totally etched in stone. We didn’t need Samsung to drag the S8’s big day through the charred remnants of the past — that time will come when the Note 8 is announced later this year — but mentioning it directly would let us totally focus on the company’s exciting future.