Note 7 fiasco portends Android turf war

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Samsung's troubles leave Android smartphone manufacturers such as LG and Google in prime position to strike.
Samsung's troubles leave Android smartphone manufacturers such as LG and Google in prime position to strike.

Samsung Electronics' abandonment of the Galaxy Note 7 due to safety concerns will likely touch off a turf war among Android smartphone makers, analysts said, presenting them a rare opportunity to gain share but with less room for arch rival Apple.

Consumers tend to commit to their choice between Apple's iOS operating system for smartphones and Google's Android, leaving Samsung's fellow Android manufacturers such as LG Electronics and Alphabet's Google in prime position to strike. Both have newly released phones.

A hardware problem is unlikely to change a customer's preference for software systems, said analyst Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research.

"Samsung has the premium end of the smartphone market pretty much sewn up on the Android side," he said. "This creates a slightly bigger opening."

Research firm TrendForce revised up Apple's 2016 smartphone shipment forecasts by three million to 208 million, while slashing Samsung's shipments estimates by four million. It also raised forecasts for China's Huawei Technologies, number three globally, by four million.

"A substantial portion of consumers' demand will now go to the three major Chinese brands - Huawei, Vivo and OPPO," it said in a note.

Nevertheless, in San Francisco, prime Apple territory, some consumers were switching to the home team, and Apple stock has risen on expectations of a broader move.

"Some people might have already been thinking about making the switch and now here's their chance," said Robin Williams, a sales associate at Sprint store on Van Ness St in San Francisco, describing some customers moving to Apple.

Bob O'Donnell of TECHnalysis Research said Apple would benefit, "but I don't think they are going to get all of it because Apple has a single product".

Samsung announced the recall of 2.5 million Note 7s in early September following numerous reports of the phones catching fire. On Tuesday, the South Korean tech giant that has long dominated the premium market pulled the plug on the $882 device in what could be one of the costliest product safety failures in tech history.

The news is a boon for Google, which last week announced a new line of Pixel smartphones, plunging the company into the hardware market that it has previously left to manufacturers such as Samsung. Samsung's retreat will prompt consumers to take a closer look at Google's phones.

"Samsung's meltdown is a big opportunity for Google to do far better with Pixel than it has with its previous Nexus devices," said Richard Windsor, analyst at Edison Investment Research.

And despite the reputational damage, Samsung will remain competitive for premium smartphone sales, analysts said. LG's V20 smartphone will not arrive in the US until the end of the month. Google's Pixel phones do not ship until 20 October, and will only be available in the US at Verizon.

"Google needs to be present at retail and with operators in volume in time to meet this demand... it needs to accelerate the launch as much as it can," said Windsor.

For consumers seeking immediate replacements for the Galaxy Note 7, it may be easiest to go with another Samsung phone, said O'Donnell at TECHnalysis. "You can't write off Samsung," he said.

And Apple may have room to shine, especially before new Android phones arrive.

At a T-Mobile store in San Francisco, salesperson Omar Arreola said some Samsung customers were so upset with the company that they switched to the iPhone 7. "They trust the brand," he said.

Brian Green, whose Note 7 caught fire on a Southwest Airlines flight last week, also said he replaced his device with an iPhone. He raced to purchase the Note 7 after its release, but he said he is unlikely to be an early adopter again.

"Next time I think I'll wait and get it once it's been around the block a few times," he said.

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