In what is probably the final chapter of the Galaxy Note 7 recall and termination, Samsung has presented an apology and a technical explanation of the biggest smartphone phone commercial disaster to date. Samsung will lose at least $3 Billion dollars (some estimates were as high as $17B back Oct), and its market capitalization has lost Billions as well. But this could be the light at the end of the tunnel, and the closure of a painful chapter for the world’s largest smartphone maker.
If you have not followed the whole story, the context is as follow: shortly after launching, reports starting to surface that some Galaxy Note 7 phones had either overheated, burned or exploded. Although this happens from time to time, in the following days and weeks, it became evident that the occurrence rate, although very small, was higher than normal, and that there was a serious issue.
Samsung acted relatively quickly to recall the first batch of Galaxy Note 7 phones and thought that the issue was a manufacturing process defect located at one of two main battery suppliers (one of which is a Samsung subsidiary).
Unfortunately, the second batch of Galaxy Note 7 deemed “safe” soon started to also exhibit signs of battery problems too… which eventually lead to a second recall of all Galaxy Note 7 worldwide and the termination of that product. There are still some handsets in the wild, but Samsung and its partners are taking steps to incentivize users to return them. By the time the report stopped (or slowed down), several hundred phones had experienced issues. About 2 Million Note 7 devices were shipped.
Despite the warnings from Samsung and various local authorities worldwide, many people just did not want to return their Note 7. It took a worldwide ban on flights and several reductions in functionality via a firmware update to accelerate the returns.
After dedicating enormous resources (700 engineers and 200,000 Note 7 phones and 30,000 battery analysed), Samsung presented its conclusion as for “why” the Note 7 had these battery issues.
The bottom line is this: both of Samsung’s battery suppliers had manufacturing issues and the battery design had some issues as well. First, the design was a bit too aggressive and underestimated potential issues that would manifest during manufacturing. Secondly, the manufacturing issues were not detected before the product launch.
Engineers consider the fact that when manufacturing millions of batteries, they are never 100% “as designed” and things be can shift by small amounts here and there. Unfortunately, the design was a bit too aggressive, and the manufacturing exhibited some clear problems such as soldering that could poke across the insulation layer and short the battery.
It is also important to understand that batteries do heat up when charge, and they will slightly expand and contract as the temperature changes. This is a normal behavior, but as engineers try to walk a fine line to offer the highest energy density, it becomes extremely hard to maintain quality.
Phones come with all kinds of safety when it comes to controlling battery charge/discharge. For example, the onboard software and electronics can slow down or stop the rate of charge if the temperatures are deemed too high. Unfortunately, any issues that lead to the physical contact between the
Samsung and external experts have reached the same conclusion: the aggressive design coupled with manufacturing and quality control issues lead to having some batteries that exhibited a higher risk of failure once in the field – at a rate that is not acceptable for this kind of product. The 3D scans and other photos show that very clearly – this was one of the best battery presentation I’ve seen.
Going forward, Samsung will use this 8-point battery safety inspection to make sure that batteries are safe:
Why didn’t this happen to the S7 and S7 Edge?
The energy density isn’t the only explanation. All it takes is to look at the Galaxy S7 Edge to see that Samsung can put a high-density battery on the market without having these problems. That is the proof that this type of batteries can be manufactured with the proper quality required for a safe product – and this is no small feat. If you look at the ratio of WxHxD vs. Battery of the Galaxy S7 Edge, it’s not hard to notice that most competitors are far behind.
And that’s why many people are questioning the motives and mindset that led to the Galaxy Note 7 battery failure. It is something that is left unanswered, although it’s not unreasonable to speculate that an aggressive design, compounded by an aggressive schedule may have led to putting things together too quickly, then scaling the production to millions of units – a very small number of which failed in the field. Only Samsung knows the exact, non-technical, reasons of all this.
Samsung recognizes that it should carry the burden of this failure, and the company will not pursue the manufacturing partners in court and will accept full responsibility for the Galaxy Note 7 issues.
Conclusion: “never again.”
From a consumer standpoint, Samsung has done enough to show the public that it has understood “why” this problem occurred, and what to look for to avoid it. It is fair to think that Samsung has sincerely learned an important lesson and that it will take every step it should to make sure that this never happens again.
The steps are credible, because whatever the cost of making the battery safer, it’s nothing compared to the cost of a commercial failure – especially of a stellar design such as the Note 7.
While Samsung has vowed to never this happen again, the company is not ready to back down from pushing the envelope. Samsung’s customers demand the kind of top of the line specs that Samsung has offered. This is the reason Samsung Mobile stands at its position today, and the company will not back down from this.