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Phone Wars Escalate As Samsung Suffers Recall Setback

Apple, LG Debut New Flagship Models

After weeks of tidbit teasers, and just hours ahead of Apple’s iPhone 7 announcement, LG Electronics formally launched its latest flagship smartphone, The LG V20.

Apple closely followed the announcement with the introduction of the long-awaited iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.

Meantime, Samsung was forced to issue a worldwide recall of its Galaxy Note7 phablet, due to battery safety issues

The company offered consumers two choices under its U.S. Product Exchange Program. They could either exchange their current Note7 with a new Note7 or they could exchange the current Note7 for a Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge. Choosing the latter also provided “replacement of any Note7 specific accessories with a refund of the price difference between devices.”

All Product Exchange Program participants received a $25 gift card or bill credit.

Whether Samsung’s Note7 recall has a lingering effect remains to be seen.

In the first quarter of 2016, Samsung extended its lead over Apple with 23 percent global smartphone market share, according to research firm Gartner.

“Samsung’s Galaxy S7 series phones and renewed portfolio positioned it as a strong competitor in the smartphone market, and more so in the emerging markets where it has been facing fierce competition from local manufacturers,” said Anshul Gupta, research director at Gartner.

Meanwhile, LG has struggled to keep up as consumers increasingly look to less expensive option.

“In a slowing smartphone market where large vendors are experiencing growth saturation, emerging brands are disrupting existing brands’ longstanding business models to increase their share,” said Gupta. “With such changing smartphone market dynamics, Chinese brands are emerging as the new top global brands. Two Chinese brands ranked within the top five worldwide smartphone vendors in the first quarter of 2015, and represented 11 percent of the market. In the first quarter of 2016, there were three Chinese brands – Huawei, Oppo and Xiaomi – and they achieved 17 percent of the market.”

Apple had its first double-digit decline year on year, with iPhone sales down 14 percent. Apple’s “upgrade program” in the U.S. helped sweeten its flagship iPhone 6s and 6s plus model pricing to drive sales in its largest smartphone market.

Apple is also exploring ways to refarm second-hand iPhones coming through the program in emerging markets. Some Apple watchers see the iPhone 7 as a bridge product as Apple acolytes are already anticipating a fully revamped iPhone 8 in 2017.

Apple’s next-generation iPhones 7 and 7 Plus will include the company’s new iOS 10. As expected, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus drop the 3.5mm headphone jack, which is causing some consternation in the press and on social media. iOS 10 features HomeKit integration so users can control HomeKit-compatible smart home products, which now number in the hundreds, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

The iPhone 7 features an “invisible” integrated antenna built into the frame, a thinner form factor, a new high-gloss jet-black or a black matte finish, a dual-lens camera (the first of its kind on a smartphone), a more responsive and customizable home button, and a haptic feedback engine. For the first time the iPhone is IP67 waterproof and dust-proof.

The new camera system’s dual-lens design adds optical stabilization technology, a wider aperture for better photography in low light, a 12-megapixel sensor, an image processor twice as powerful as the iPhone 6 and wide-color gamut capture. The new front-facing camera is bumped up to 7 megapixels.

LG said the new V20 combines the best of its direct antecedent, the V10, and its unconventional cousin, the G5, into a sleek, lightweight, 5.7-inch handset packed with enough “fun” features, the company hopes, to make for a compelling Android alternative to the reigning Samsung Galaxy flagships.

It boasts a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB RAM, 64GB onboard ROM and up to 2TB of MicroSD capacity, a 5.7-inch QHD IPS (2,560 by 1,440, 513ppi) display, an extra-thick Gorilla Glass 4 screen and a removable 3,200 mAh battery.

It has an aluminum removable back cover and a shock-resistant silicone polycarbonate casing, for military-grade durability.

A 16-megapixel rear camera with F1.8 aperture at standard angle and 8-megapixel with F2.4 aperture at wide angle, featuring hybrid autofocus (integrating laser, phase detection and contrast). It is paired with a 5-megapixel wide angle front camera with F1.9 aperture.

The V20 runs the Android 7.0 Nougat OS, the first phone out of the gate with the update, and is available in gray, silver and pink.

Pricing and availability were undisclosed, pending carrier launch announcements

— Reporting by Lisa Johnston, John Laposky and Alan Wolf