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The Verge 2018 tech report card: Samsung

The Verge 2018 tech report card: Samsung

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Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Compared to the past couple of years, 2018 was a relatively uneventful 12 months for Samsung. The company largely kept on keeping on, stuck with what’s been working for the past few years, and managed to avoid major product debacles or new corruption scandals.

The new product train started early in the year for Samsung, with the announcement of the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus in February. The S9 pair were direct follows to 2017’s very successful Galaxy S8 phones, and Samsung didn’t change much for the new models. They had newer processors and updated cameras, but looked almost identical to the prior year’s phones. The S9 also debuted questionable software, such as the creepy AR Emoji – a hastily put together ripoff of Apple’s Animoji.

As a result, sales of the S9 didn’t quite take off and they weren’t as significant of a force in the smartphone market as the S8s. By mid-year, Samsung was blaming its poor financial performance on weak sales of the S9, and the company had to aggressively slash prices in an effort to move units.

Fortunately for Samsung, the S9 wasn’t the only major phone it released this year, with August’s Galaxy Note 9 proving to be a winner. Like the S9, the Note 9 borrowed heavily from its predecessor, the Note 8, for its appearance and design. But Samsung wisely doubled down on specs and performance, outfitting the Note 9 with a massive (and as of yet, non-explosive) battery that seemed to be just what fans of the over-the-top smartphone were looking for.

The Note 9 also showed that Samsung could play ball with Apple in the $1,000 smartphone league. Even though the Note 9 started at $999 for a 128GB model, the $1,249 512GB version ended up being surprisingly popular. The success of the Note 9 (and its high sticker price) helped Samsung turn its financials around by the end of the year, with the company returning record profits in the third quarter.

The Note 9 showed that Samsung could play ball with Apple in the $1,000 smartphone league

While Samsung had many corporate corruption scandals in 2017, things were relatively quiet on that front for 2018. Vice chairman of Samsung Electronics and the apparent heir to the entire chaebol, Jay Y. Lee, was released from prison in February after winning an appeal following his conviction of perjury, embezzlement, and bribery.

Even though Samsung executives managed to stay out of new corruption scandals, there were still some workforce disputes. In September, Lee Sang-hoon, the chairman of Samsung Electronics’ board of directors, was indicted on charges of sabotaging attempts by Samsung employees to form labor unions. Thirty-one other Samsung executives face trial alongside Lee for threatening to cut wages from employees and withdraw business from subcontractors that supported unionization.

Then in November, Samsung released an apology to its factory workers that were suffering from work-related diseases and announced that it would be compensating them up to 150 million Korean won (approximately $130,000) each. The settlement is the result of the result of decade-long campaign by SHARPS, an organization founded by Hwang Sang-ki after his son died from leukemia while working at a Samsung chip factory in 2007. SHARPS claims that about 200 workers from Samsung’s LCD and chip manufacturing lines have also contracted leukemia due to the nature of the work, and that of those 70 have died from the disease.

Samsung’s foldable concept
Samsung’s foldable concept

Before the year was up, Samsung began priming the pump for 2019, with teases of a new foldable smartphone that will be released next year. The rumors for the Galaxy S10 have also started in earnest, with reports speculating that Samsung will release three variations of the phone in the spring, plus a 5G phone and the foldable device. In addition, we’re likely to see the release of the Galaxy Home, Samsung’s Bixby-powered smart speaker designed to compete with the Apple HomePod, Google Home, and Amazon Alexa.

With 2018’s lackluster performance behind it, it seems that Samsung is going to assault the market with many products next year, which should make for an interesting spectacle to watch.

Final Score: B-

B- 2018 Grade

The Verge 2018 report card: Samsung

Gold Stars

  • No major product snafus
  • Note 9 showed the company can listen to customers

Needs Improvement

  • Executives still up to no good
  • Bixby shows no sign of user traction
  • AR Emoji is still a creepy joke