The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 fiasco highlights the challenge of packing more power into much thinner phones, all while rushing for earlier release dates.
Shortly after its release, reports emerged that the Note 7 handsets were exploding and experts now believe the real culprit was Samsung’s urgency to be beat Apple.
Once rumors surfaced that Apple’s latest device wasn’t set to be the year’s biggest innovation, Samsung executives ‘pushed suppliers to meet tighter deadlines, despite loads of new features’.
This group of executives, which includes mobile chief D.J. Koh, agreed to move production ahead of schedule in order ‘launch a new phone they were confident would dazzle consumers’ and take advantage of Apple’s letdown, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg.
By doing so, Samsung was able to pack the Note 7 with a range of cutting-edge technology in just a short period of time.
This includes a high-resolution screen that stretches around the edges, iris-recognition security and of course, a faster charging battery.
However, this accelerated production came at a cost.
On August 2, Samsung took the stage in New York to unveil its 5.7 inch handset, a place where the firm also saw an opportunity to take a stab at Apple.
‘Want to know what else it comes with?’ teased Samsung’s vice-president of marketing, Justin Denison.
‘An audio jack. I’m just saying.’
Within a few days of the launch, it appeared Samsung was eating their own words after reports surfaced that the Note 7 was bursting into flames.
Just a month after the launch, Koh held a press conference in Seoul, South Korea where he announced the recall of 2.5 million Galaxy Note 7 devices that would eventually be replaced with a new and safe Note 7.
Although the firm was praised for its quick thinking, it was also criticized for announcing these plans prior to establishing a strategy on how to gather millions of phones in 10 countries and get each person a replacement.
In the meantime, Samsung had short-term solutions such as shutting phones off and not using them to a software patch that prevents batteries from overheating.
‘This is creating an enormous problem for the company — for its reputation and ability to support its customers when there’s a problem,’ David Yoffie, a management professor at Harvard Business School and board member at Intel Corp, told Bloomberg.
While employees scrambled to meet the early launch date, suppliers also stretched their work hours and were under more pressure than usual.
One supplier told Bloomberg that ‘it was particularly challenging to work with Samsung employees this time, as they repeatedly changed their minds about specs and work flow’.
WHY WERE THE BATTERIES EXPLODING?
Lithium batteries are use in a range of consumer electronic devices, favored by manufacturers because they are lightweight and pack much more energy into a small space than other power cells.
But storing so much energy in a tiny space, with combustible components separated by ultra-thin walls, makes them susceptible to overheating if exposed to high temperatures, damage or flaws in manufacturing.
If the separators fail, a chemical reaction can quickly escalate out of control.
Koh Dong-jin, Samsung’s mobile president told reporters in Seoul: ‘The flaw in the manufacturing process resulted in the negative electrodes and the positive electrodes coming together.’
It is unclear how Samsung failed to discover the battery problem before launching the Note 7.
‘Some Samsung workers began sleeping in the office to avoid time lost in commuting.’
But with all the sweat and tears, the firm believed they had come out on top.
The Note 7 devices were shipped to carriers all over the world in time for an early launch and one executive even said they had time to test the handsets in May, which is ‘the typical amount of time to check its capabilities’.
However, it wasn’t until the devices reached customers were they deemed ticking time bombs.
In a case shortly after the release, one man shared a video of a charred Note 7 on YouTube.
THE SAMSUNG GALAXY NOTE 7 RECALL
The world’s largest maker of mobile phones recalled 2.5-million units of its top-of-the-range model more than two weeks ago, after batteries began catching fire while charging.
But users snubbed the South Korean electronics giant’s offer of a temporary replacement until new Note 7s became available, and there seemed to be little urgency among consumers for the permanent fix offered.
The success of the recall is seen as crucial to Samsung retaining brand loyalty and preventing customers defecting to arch-rival Apple’s new iPhone 7 or cheaper Chinese-made models.
A Samsung spokeswoman confirmed the firm had started to offer the replacement handsets.
The company began offering replacements for users in Canada and Singapore last week and is set to start soon in other nations including Mexico, Taiwan, New Zealand the United Arab Emirates.
But with only a trickle of customers visiting stores in Seoul today for their replacements, the fate of the much-hyped handset remained unclear, although consumers in the South Korean capital were sympathetic.
The recall dealt a major blow to the firm’s reputation and raised alarm among airline, with several banning passengers from using the device on board.
South Korean users have time until March 2017 to hand in their phones for a replacement but Samsung is hoping a software update that will limit battery recharges to 60 percent of capacity will jolt consumers into returning their handsets.
The recall crisis erupted as Samsung finds itself squeezed by competition from Apple in the high-end market and Chinese rivals in the low-and mid-end segment.
‘Hey YouTube,’ Ariel Gonzalez says.
‘Be careful out there. Everyone rockin’ the new Note 7, it might catch fire y’all.’
Another was from family in St. Petersburg, Florida, who reported a Galaxy Note 7 phone left charging in their Jeep caught fire and destroyed the vehicle.
And most recently, a six-year-old boy was burned after a Samsung phone ‘exploded’ in his hands.
‘This is a crisis and a blow to Samsung’s image,’ said Kim Sang Jo, economics professor at Hansung University in Seoul.
‘Clearly there were procedural missteps and the company will have to restore consumer and investor confidence.’
About two weeks ago, the US aviation safety officials warned passengers not to turn on or even charge a Note 7 during while one the plane, after numerous incident reports surfaced.
The Federal Aviation Administration also told passengers not to put smartphones in their checked bags, citing ‘recent incidents and concerns raised by Samsung’ about the devices.
Delta Air Lines Inc, the No.2 U.S. airline by passenger traffic, said it is still studying the issue.
‘Delta is in constant contact with the FAA and other bodies in its run of business as a global airline,’ spokesman Morgan Durrant said in a statement.
‘We will comply with any directive and are studying this matter. Safety and security is always Delta’s top priority.’
New York and New Jersey have both asked Samsung users to shut their phones down while riding public transportation until every faulty Note 7 has been replaced.
Although Samsung voluntarily recalled 2.5 million devices worldwide, the announcement seemed to fall on deaf ears as many stores and carriers continued to sell them.
The US Consumer Product Commission was then forced to step in and recall the one million in the US, where some 92 incidences of batteries overheating have been reported.
The US notice affects around one million of the global total of 2.5 million handsets being recalled, which has cast a cloud over the South Korean electronics giant and world’s largest smartphone vendor, reports AFP.
The recall is the largest the smartphone industry has ever witnessed, however, Samsung did receive a pat on the back from others in the technology industry for the firm’s speed and decisiveness, reports The New York Times.
‘I thought, ‘How is it that this is happening?’ ‘ Jennifer Shecter, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Consumer Reports, told The New York Times.
Schecter said the group found an inconsistent response to the recall across America, as some stores and carries continued to keep selling the Note 7 even days after Samsung made the recall announcement.
‘Samsung made an announcement, but the government wasn’t involved, there wasn’t a clear message, there wasn’t an approved remedy and there wasn’t a clear fix,’ she said.
Samsung has started an exchange program for Galaxy Note 7 owners in the UK and Ireland today, which allows them to trade in their ticking time bombs for safe smartphones.
‘Samsung is fully confident that the battery issue has been completely resolved in the replacement Note 7 devices that will be available to customers in UK and Ireland from this week,’ said the firm in a statement.
The tech company added that while there had only been ‘a small number of reported incidents, safety is the number one concern.
‘Our absolute priority is the safety of our customers – that’s why we are asking all Galaxy Note 7 customers to act now and exchange today,’ said Conor Pierce, vice president of IT & Mobile at Samsung UK & Ireland.