Samsung on exploding batteries, AI, VR and the future

VP of Samsung Mobile discusses moving on from the Note 7 debacle

This time last year, Samsung was in a strong position. They were riding high on the success of their Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge devices and their hardcore fans were excited about the rumoured arrival of the Note 7 phone. 

The Note 7 was unveiled on August 2nd and became available to consumers on August 19th. As with every new flagship device, there was hype, excitement, and reviews.

Not long after that, however, came headlines Samsung had not anticipated. 

The company was forced to undertake a global recall and discontinue the device following reports of Note 7 devices 'exploding' and 'catching fire'. 

Seven months on from that event, Conor Pierce, Vice President for Samsung Mobile in the UK in Ireland tells Newstalk.com that is was an 'epic' moment. 

"In my 20 years in this business, with several different hats on, that was definitely an epic moment and a very humbling experience. When that happened last year, it was a real blow."

While other manufacturers have encountered blips with their products along the way, such as Apple's bending iPhone screens, nothing has occurred on this scale to a company like Samsung. 

"I remember, I was going to the airport after it was announced there was going to be a second recall," continues Pierce. "The airlines were obviously were announcing that you weren't able to bring your Note 7 on the flights. I was at the check-in desks swapping Note 7s out with S7 Edges over the weekend with my team. We really went all out to make sure the consumers were unaffected by it."

Brand loyalty

As the company worked towards solving the issue with the Note 7 phones, Pierce noted that the 'vast majority' opted to switch to an S7 Edge. That's an example of brand loyalty that was illustrated in the market-share figures. 

"Looking back on last year, there wasn't one quarter where we didn't see our premium market grow in the UK or Ireland, despite the fact that in Q3 the Note 7 issue happened and our main competitor launched their flagship device. Yet, we saw our premium market share grow," explains Pierce. 

Samsung is now preparing for the arrival of the S8 and S8+. The new phones were unveiled last week and are currently available for pre-order. 

"There was huge excitement and expectation for the S8 and the S8+. It was one of the most important moments in the mobile industry, for Ireland and the UK in particular because they are very saturated markets and incredibly tech savvy."

So what makes their new phone stand out, in the eyes for the VP for Samsung Mobile?

"I think the highlight for it is the infinity display on the 5.7-inch and the 6.2-inch screens. What they have done is maximise the real-estate of the device. They've removed the home button and anything that is surplus to the phone."

"Overall, I think it's definitely one of the best phones that Samsung has ever made. And the reaction from the customers and the consumers in pre-order is really encouraging."

Virtual reality

As well as two new phones and a device that transforms the concept of desktop computing, Samsung also unveiled an updated virtual reality unit. The company sold over 250,000 Gear VR units in Ireland and the UK since its launch 18 months ago. 

"We are very committed to continuing to drive our VR experience," says Pierce. "I think it was Mark Zuckerberg who said 'The future platform of computing will be VR', and I really believe that," he continues.

The new Gear VR comes with a handheld remote control, which makes it more comfortable for users.  

New and innovative uses for virtual reality are continuing to emerge. Sherry Fitzgerald, Thomas Cooke and the Metropolitan Police are just some of the organisations uses the technology for a range of different purposes.

The future

What does Conor Pierce see when he thinks of Ireland and Samsung going forward?

"We have a very strong position in the Irish market. About 40% smartphone users are using an Android device and we're the majority shareholder of that market. The Irish market is interesting because we have become social media and data junkies. The mobile phone is the means to deliver that. I'm very committed to the Irish market. We have a strong brand presence and a very strong team here."

The company has also unveiled Bixby, its AI application. Not only is it able to help users with tasks, queries and reminders. It's important to note, however, that it will only be available at launch in Korea and the US. It will launch in Europe at a later date. 

Users can open their camera and tap on the small green circle on the left side of the screen. This launches Bixby, which can help users identify items captured by the lens. For example, if you are in London at a landmark and are unsure of what it is called, open Bixby, point and capture the image. It will let you know where you are. 

Another interesting use for it is for fashion fans. Users will be able to point Bixby at an item of clothing and will pull up a list of shops in which the item or similar items can be purchased.

Pierce says there is no sign of Samsung slowing down in terms of innovation and quality products.  

"There aren't many companies in the world that have the scale that Samsung has. They spend $40 million every day on research and development across the group."

All eyes will be on the sales figures for the new Note 8 and Note 8+, which are available for pre-order now and will be available in-store from April 20th.