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Smartphones come, Smartphones go

Anyone traveling on a flight in Asia in recent weeks would have been bemused – or perhaps terrified - to hear the announcements warning passengers about turning on their new Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones.

Visions of exploding smartphones blowing up airliners is not what you want to hear when you are about to board a flight, and while the risk is probably minimal its not a risk anyone really wants to take.

It underlined the ordeal Samsung, a global top two smartphone manufacturer, is going through right now.

Instead of amazing the market with its new flagship phone, Samsung has been forced to recall 2.5 million phones and has been widely accused of bungling the exercise. In addition to that, the company reportedly lost $1.2 billion in two days.

Customers around the world have complained that the company has delayed efforts to provide replacements, with the recall plagued by conflicting information and a lack of co-ordination.

Samsung's corporate pain is set to become the stuff of business school case studies on how to manage, or how not to manage credibility in a crisis.

But it also brought home to me the fickleness of smartphone fashion, and had me wondering if we were set for another changing of the guard.

We all remember when Nokia and Motorola ruled the market, and the flip-phone was the fashion accessory of the day.

Well, this year the Motorola brand is being phased out under Lenovo’s ownership and – after flirting with oblivion – Nokia is having another crack at the market. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, Apple have found another way of annoying their customers – by running out of product.

In markets around the world, customers queuing for the IPhone 7 have been turned away empty handed.

Imagine you have ordered and paid for your iPhone 7, and you are told you have to wait due to Apple’s supply chain issues.

On the one hand, this is great for Apple because it the phones are in such demand, but in the fickle world of branding incidents like this can rapidly turn consumer sentiment sour. Another business school case study perhaps.

And then there are the reviews of the phone itself. Respondents in Telecom Asia’s online poll so far are underwhelmed, and – I’ll say it again – where is the headphone jack?

So we have a situation now where the two largest smartphone manufacturers are battling consumer issues, one regarding quality and the other availability.

All of this must be going down well in Shenzhen at the headquarters of number three ranked handset maker Huawei, which has good challengers in the Mate 8 and P9.

The company has well known ambitions to be number one, and could this be an opportunity?

In the meantime, there is no shortage of challengers. It can all change very quickly and incumbents should be very careful when they stumble.