Leader comment: Big players, high stakes

The troubles Samsung has had over its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones are instructive in a number of less obvious ways. The first is just how far we have progressed in terms of consumer protection.

Samsung have decided to stop production of the its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone and told customers to stop using the device, following reports that replacements for combustible models were also catching fire. Picture: Getty Images

It might seem that a phone that doesn’t go on fire is a very basic requirement for safety, but what is telling is given the increasing number of devices that contain some electronic element in our lives and the increasing complexity of them it is perhaps remarkable that there are not more scares and recalls. This demonstrates that in general the protections in place and the research and development that are needed to meet requirements are working adequately.

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The other lesson is the illustration of just how huge the big global players have become. In Samsung’s case the South Korean finance minister had warned that the country’s exports would be hurt if the phone model was scrapped. It is a reminder that there are huge stakes in play for these companies, their decisions can affect entire nations, so some degree of caution in acting quickly is to be expected.

Samsung’s big mistake here is how it reacted to the first reports of exploding batteries when it recalled 2.5 million handsets. But it now appears the steps it took then were not enough to eradicate the problem. It should have been completely sure that the product it subsequently released to the market was absolutely safe.

It was right yesterday to announce that it would stop all Galaxy Note 7 production. But the company may well find that not doing that in September is going to cost it dearly in terms of lost reputation and therefore lost market share.