Apple Watch, Samsung Edge glitches anger users, but no outright revolt

As mobile tech grows more complex, early adopters seem willing to hang in there

Problems with the new Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge smartphone have infuriated some early adopters, but they still stay loyal to their favorite brand.

Some have taken to user forums and tweets with expletive-deleted missives. This post Wednesday on an Android Central forum by Edge smartphone user Ajay Rivera seemed to summarize recent sentiment: "This was my second device to crap out and [a support rep] still treated me like an *****"

Despite such anger, many in the industry dismiss glitches -- and subsequent user furor -- as par for the course with most new products.

"I don't expect this dynamic to change any time soon," lamented Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "There have been a lot of false starts over the years, even from Apple ... and certainly others too that have ticked-off consumers."

It's surprising that there aren't more glitches and complaints given the growing complexity, number of working parts and lines of code in wearables and mobile devices, analysts noted.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge onboard diagnostic screen in landscape modeMatt HamblenThis photo shows how the onboard diagnostic screen should rotate into landscape mode -- unlike the faulty units.

The issues at hand

Most recently with the Apple Watch, which shipped April 24, customers this week tweeted concerns under the hashtag #tattoogate about the heart-rate monitor not working on tattooed skin.

There was also a report in the Wall Street Journal overall Watch production was slowed because of a faulty taptic engine, used to gently tap the wrist for alerts, made by one of two manufacturers. That report was a disappointment to some customers on waiting lists.

An Apple spokeswoman refused to comment on the taptic engine report. On the tattoo matter, she pointed to an Apple support website that states, "Apple Watch may not be able to get a reliable heart rate reading every time for everybody."

The Watch's heart rate sensor uses photoplethysmography technology with LED lights on the back to detect the amount of blood flowing through the user's wrist. The website adds: "Permanent or temporary changes to your skin, such as some tattoos, can also impact heart rate sensor performance. The ink, pattern, and saturation of some tattoos can block light from the sensor, making it difficult to get reliable readings."

A separate concern with the Samsung Edge goes back to when the smartphone started shipping April 10. Three weeks later, customers are still complaining on user forums about a screen rotation problem from portrait (vertical) to landscape (horizontal) that Samsung has said affects a "very limited" number of Edge devices.

User responses

With the new Samsung Edge smartphone, some users seem willing to go to a store or use a delivery service to get a second, third, or even fourth copy of the same device if the first one goes flunky.

One forum comment posted by "overtheVerizon" on April 26 said the third Edge obtained from Verizon Wireless was working so far, an indication that the problem was hardware-related, not because of a software continuity foible.

At one point on April 22, Samsung advised users to call 1-800-SAMSUNG for help, but many users said in forums it might be best to return a faulty device to the carrier involved for an exchange if done before the 14-day return period expires. A Verizon Wireless community forum included a recommendation to Verizon customers with an Edge to call 1-800-922-0204, while noting that the Samsung warranty on the phones is good for one year.

A Verizon spokesman, in an email to Computerworld, said the rotation problem affects a small number of devices, but he couldn't say if the issue was hardware or software-related. He also said the problem was still being evaluated by Verizon, separately from Samsung. At one Best Buy store, a repair technician told Computerworld that Samsung is aware of the problem with the Edge and urged customers to call the 1-800-SAMSUNG. He couldn't say what the source of the problem is.

The Apple Watch is still early in the game, but some disappointments about the tattoo-related problem have already surfaced. One user with wrist tattoos named "Techjas" got the Watch recently and asked on the Apple Watch forum, "How is Apple going to handle it? Right now I am not sure I want a watch I have to 'rig' to get it to work correctly."

Business as usual

The typical industry response to such concerns is that new products sometimes have glitches and that's to be expected.

But the problem goes deeper than that, to how well vendors and carriers handle the service calls and visits to stores when problems arise -- if only to retain loyal customers. Based on user forums, the service calls for the Edge rotation problem can sometimes be easy, but are more often exasperating.

A senior project manager at a tech company who asked not to be named emailed Computerworld to say he called the Samsung support line because his Edge phone's screen was locked in portrait position. He was told to send the device back to Samsung for evaluation, but the manager was concerned because he would have no phone for nine business days with no loaner phone provided. The only other option he was offered was to contact his carrier, and if he had third-party insurance he should use it to "see what can be done."

What angers customers more than a technical problem is being ignored by a vendor or treated like an idiot for making a complaint, in person or over the phone with a service representative.

"Vendors don't admit any problems until they absolutely have to," Gold said. "That sometimes leaves consumers in the dark and potentially unable to fix some problems with their devices."

When vendors do make an admission, the problem may be waved away as an "issue" or a "glitch" or something "easily fixed" by a software update or a supposedly simple return to the store.

Customers who love a certain vendor -- Apple is a prime example -- seem to be willing to put up with a lot of headaches. "If you are in love with Apple, you are more accepting of any faults that come along, but this applies to other vendors too," Gold said.

"Consumers have gotten spoiled over the years in expecting all products released to be great upfront, when in reality many vendors take significant risks with new technology that doesn't work as planned," Gold said.

With smartphones, it has become easier to switch carriers or smartphone platforms, which poses a problem for vendors that need customers to remain loyal to maintain profits. "It's a big problem for vendors in a hyper-competitive market like phones to even admit there is a problem, with the fear it will dramatically affect sales," Gold said.

Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel, said Samsung did well in acknowledging the screen rotation issue and then in saying there was a fix. "Possibly that second step could have been a bit more specific, so if that problem persisted with some users, they would know what to do," she said.

Several analysts said the Samsung Edge problem does appear to affect a limited number of phones, an indication of a possible hardware problem with the phone's accelerometer or the software directly related to it.

Because the extent of the problem seems limited, it probably won't affect Edge sales dramatically. "It is probably a faulty batch, which will eventually all be replaced," said Boris Metodiev, an analyst at 451 Research. Samsung has predicted overall sales of 70 million combined for the Edge and its cousin the Galaxy S6.

Meanwhile, the reported Apple Watch problem with the taptic engine could slow down production although demand still seems sky high.

As for problems reading heart rates through tattoos, Apple's website makes it fairly clear the issue is something that users with tattoos will have to live with, or connect to an external heart rate monitor wirelessly. That, or seek a refund.

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