In August 2016, the aptly named Galaxy Note 7 was released to millions of enthusiastic users worldwide. The smartphone was poised as Samsung’s most powerful gizmo at that moment, and the critics agreed. Galaxy Note 7 delivered the hype customers long awaited for, since the Note 5. Resistance features and its ability to unlock using the iris were praised, despite its hefty price. At least for a week.
Lately, a series of incidents involving exploding batteries circulated on the internet. But the defect was not detected immediately, until major media moguls reported these circumstances, only days after Note 7’s release. Reports from other parts of the world cited this unit exploding in cars, hotels and houses. Thirty five similar instances later, Samsung halted the sale of Note 7 and announced a voluntary recall in early September. There are about 2.5 million units sold as of September 2. It seems like Samsung hit a large wall with its current situation.
The smartphone giant also urged customers to turn off their units and return them to Samsung, in order to fix the problem. Regulation bodies followed suit and advised users not to use the Galaxy Note 7 during flights. Some airline companies even ban the phones from the plane. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission warned Galaxy Note 7 users not to use this device anymore, due to the risk of exploding batteries.
The Root Cause
Most of the Galaxy Note 7 incidents occurred while recharging. Samsung confirmed about 35 cases of exploding batteries, as of September 1. It is also aware of two instances in Perth, Australia, inside a hotel room, and another one in Florida, USA, where a family left this unit charging inside a vehicle. Other users complained that Galaxy Note 7 becomes too hot to hold when charging. As indicated by these incidents, lithium-ion batteries really do explode. Investigation probes by Samsung revealed that one of the suppliers of lithium batteries was at fault. However, a series of bad publicity regarding Samsung’s flagship product does not sit well with people. Judging by the downward trend of Samsung’s stock value right now, the effect could be worse than we initially expected.
For the uninitiated, rechargeable lithium batteries became the gold standard of portable devices. Lithium-ion batteries are known for having smaller sizes than AAs, but packing two to four times the voltage. These also store energy efficiently and consume energy slowly. Lithium-ion batteries are different from the ones you use in your wall clocks or remote controls.
Have you seen the plus and minus sign on your battery? These are called cathodes and anodes, respectively. These electrodes are places where electricity enters and leaves your battery. The anode is filled with negatively charged ions and the cathode contains positively charged ones. When you use your phone, the lithium moves from cathodes to anodes. The reverse happens whenever you are charging one. Remember that there is a separator between the two, so as to avoid mishaps like explosions.
In an official statement, Samsung said that manufacturing errors were the root cause of this current predicament. Some of its units had the anode and cathode touched, causing explosions during recharge. This problem would have been prevented, if Samsung had kept a keener eye on the production process.
Normally, Samsung Galaxy Note 7’s problem can be easily solved by simply replacing the battery. However, since Galaxy S5, the company’s totally compact units rendered these non-removable. Manual replacement by the user voids the warranty. Also, it costs about $250 to disassemble and piece the product together again.
Mistakes in the charging process may also induce explosions. But there are apps that indicate your battery status and help you save energy. Consistent incorrect recharge causes instability among the chemicals inside. So, the battery overheats, then explodes after some time. Dropping your phone from high places may also destroy the separator.
Thankfully, this is quite uncommon, especially for reputable firms. You should note that there are only 35 reported cases, out of 2.5 million Galaxy Note 7 units sold on the market. Nonetheless, the speculations and Samsung’s admission of the problem caused an uproar. The figures are high enough to cause substantial doubts about the capability of this high-end device.
Samsung isn’t the first one to be under fire, as far as combusting batteries are concerned. Dell recalled about 4 million laptops for the same reason. About 500,000 hoverboards were also returned, due to reports of exploding batteries. In 2013, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner was forced to land after reports of burning lithium-ion batteries on the plane.
Note that the statistics of exploding batteries remains incredibly low, thanks to several regulations. Other government bodies joined with Samsung to disseminate the warnings concerning the phones. A recall was also announced.
Samsung’s Damage Control
The smartphone giant is currently inspecting its suppliers, to retrieve the defective batteries on the market. They also encouraged their customers to return the Galaxy Note 7 units to their respective purchase outlets. A customer who participates in the exchange program will have these choices:
- Receive a Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge, a gift card and a refund of the price difference.
- Wait for a new Galaxy Note 7 Edge, which is free from defects.
“Our number one priority is the safety of our customers. We are asking users to power down their Galaxy Note 7s and exchange them as soon as possible”, stated DJ Koh, the President of Mobile Communications Business, Samsung Electronics, on their official website. He also mentioned that Samsung is currently on the process of expediting the replacement products.
It was rumored that Samsung will directly deactivate units that aren’t returned by September 30. This alleged move is to ensure that no potentially harmful devices would be used after that date. The company states that this is not in accordance with their Note 7 exchange program.
Samsung also reportedly switched suppliers for the battery of Samsung Galaxy Note 7. These recalled units will have their batteries replaced. Then, affected Galaxy Note 7 units will be marked on their packaging, to distinguish them from safe ones.
For those who do not want to have their devices returned, Samsung is currently developing a patch to Note 7. This software aims to avoid battery explosions by only charging the smartphones to 60%. The feature will cut the life of Note 7 batteries to almost half, in exchange for safer use. This was advertised in a South Korean newspaper last week and will roll out on September 20. Whether this patch will be available worldwide or users will be forced to download this update is not yet known at this point.
Samsung’s action is well-ahead of official government recalls. While the firm implemented this to minimize further damage, legal implications should be considered. It will only be a matter of time until government agencies issue their recall announcements. The US Consumer Public Safety is currently coordinating with Samsung regarding this announcement. By that time, selling Galaxy Note 7 will be illegal, even if it’s a used one. Probably that is what Samsung wants to delay at this point.
There was a news published by The New York Post about a kid who had his hands burned from using Galaxy Note 7. Turns out, the smartphone in question is actually Galaxy Core Prime. That phone’s battery is removable and the unit was released in 2014. Samsung did not experience that kind of problem in the past, but they are currently investigating this case. The battery might not even be one of its original parts, given how easy you can buy counterfeit replacements. However, no casualties among Galaxy Note 7 users have been recorded so far.
While no one is at fault for the unfortunate event, hysteria over the issue remains high. Samsung needs to think of a suave strategy to convince wary users that the problem is at bay. The company’s PR teams face great pressure to turn the tables. They are also aware that recalls are not done overnight, so mitigating damage is the best they can do right now.
The Domino Effect
Samsung was supposed to wait for the flaws of iPhone 7, and turn these to their advantage. The Galaxy Note 7 could have been the follow-up to Galaxy S7’s success. The unit was initially showered with glowing reviews and was supposed to be remembered for outstanding features. Instead, Samsung is currently facing a problem that will not only affect them, but also the smartphone industry as a whole. Everyone is anxiously waiting for the smartphone giant’s moves for the next few days. While the problem is not yet solved, Samsung is likely to suffer more major financial blows. It remains as the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer, but the recall hit them at the worst time possible.
Galaxy Note 7’s exploding batteries may cause the 4th quarter sales of Samsung on the negative. The company has cut its forecasted operating profit by 1 trillion ($900 million). This does not account the loss from potential sales. About $14.3 billion was also pulled out by investors, amidst warnings issued by regulatory bodies worldwide. Lastly, Samsung Electronics’ common stock prices fell to $1,329.73 each, registering a daily decline of 6%. This was the largest daily drop in the company’s value in the last four years. On a more positive note, this is a good time for investors to buy Samsung stocks, while they are still low.
It is also estimated that the recall can cost as much as $1 billion to the company. However, this assumes the 2.5 million units are all defective. A more realistic figure sets the financial losses at $5 million, after netting sales against reparation cost.
Even if Samsung were to replace the batteries, the Galaxy Note 7 sales will not be as high as what was initially expected. Early forecast indicates 12 to 15 million units shipped. The current estimate states that 6 million Galaxy Note 7 smartphones will be sold after the recalls.
If you still have a Galaxy Note 7 in your hands, power it down and return it to your purchase outlet. Waiting for two to three weeks for a working replacement is good, if it boils down to your safety. Samsung is doing its part to recall all of the 2.5 million units to fix the problem. You might as well do them a favor, for your own safety.
Samsung is still projected to earn billions by the end of 2016. After all, Galaxy Note 7 is just one of its product lines sold to consumers. What the company needs to pay attention to right now is the customer perception. Samsung is doing its best to mitigate the damage, by admitting the problem and voluntarily recalling the product. The company also coordinates with regulatory agencies, in order to speed up its smartphone exchange program. It is unfortunate, but Galaxy Note 7 will be forever remembered as the phone that explodes. Samsung will need a solid marketing strategy to convince users of the quality of their future products.
Lastly, the future of Samsung might be determined by whether the new Note 7 models will have another problem or not. If it goes well, a considerable hype may still be formed for the Galaxy 8. Let’s hope that Samsung’s manufacturing prowess will not be tarnished forever.
What do you think about Samsung Galaxy Note 7’s problem? Voice out in the comment box!