After the Note7 crisis, Samsung won't debut its next phone until end of March

Visitors try devices at the stand of Samsung on the first day of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Visitors try devices at the stand of Samsung on the first day of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. PHOTO: AFP

BARCELONA (WASHINGTON POST) - A more cautious Samsung was on display Sunday at the Mobile World Congress, the annual technology show in Barcelona. As the company works to regain its reputation following last year's unprecedented recall of the Galaxy Note7 phone, it decided not to launch a new flagship smartphone at the show - breaking with tradition over the past three years.

Samsung set the tone of its news conference with a video showcasing its safety testing procedures rather than touting the past year's successes or offering a flashy product announcement. "Innovation is our legacy. Quality is our priority," the company's video said.

The company focused its presentation on new tablets, while announcing that its next phone will get its time in the spotlight at a March 29 launch event.

The company did not elaborate on why the phone's launch will come later, but it said last month when it reported the results of the Note7 investigation that it may delay its new phone's debut.

The next phone will have a new design, David Lowes, chief marketing officer for Samsung Electronics Europe, said in a live stream of the Barcelona news conference. But apart from an ad with the tagline "Unbox your phone" - which showed a stylized illustration of a phone with an edge-to-edge screen - the company provided no further details about its next model.

 
 

The next Galaxy phone will be a crucial test for Samsung, which had waged a successful campaign to chip away at Apple's iPhone before the Note7 crisis. The company has apologized for releasing phones that caught fire and exploded but has yet to follow up with a new smartphone to woo customers back and prove its stated commitment to safety.

With the Note7, Samsung flubbed an opportunity to score points off Apple, which in 2016 reported a year-long decline in iPhone sales for the first time. Samsung reported that it lost at least US$5 billion (S$7.03 billion) in sales and losses related to the recall. And that is not the only crisis facing the tech giant: Samsung also drew headlines this month after the South Korean government arrested its vice chairman and company heir-apparent, Lee Jae-yong, on bribery charges.

The impact these problems have had on Samsung's relationship with its customers has been difficult to quantify, but analysis firm IDC reported that Apple regained its lead over Samsung in smartphone shipments in the last quarter of 2016. Furthermore, Samsung's brand fell from seventh to 49th place within a year, according to a Harris poll released this month that evaluated the reputation of household brand names.

Still, despite its more measured tone in Barcelona, Samsung didn't pull all of its punches. The company showcased two tablets with designs clearly meant to take on top competitors, including Apple and Microsoft. The new 9.7-inch Galaxy Tab S3 is a high-end update to its Android tablet line. It has four speakers and will ship with the company's S Pen stylus.

Samsung also showed off the Galaxy Book, a tablet that comes with a keyboard and stylus, which kicks off a new product line to compete with Apple's iPad Pro and Microsoft's Surface line. Unlike its competitors, Samsung will ship the Galaxy Book with the accessories necessary to make it a laptop replacement. Samsung also made a point to court the same creative class of customers - artists and designers who can take full advantage of its stylus - as have Apple and Microsoft.

The company did not announce release dates or prices for either product.

Samsung is trying to rebuild its reputation by offering fewer and higher-quality products, a strategy that could improve its standing and reap greater profits, analysts said."Samsung is recommitting to its higher performance units, which offer better profit margins and opportunities to enhance the brand," said Rhoda Alexander, director at IHS Technology, in a research note shortly after the presentation.