Smartphones: Samsung’s exploding-phone nightmare
Samsung has dug itself a very deep, very expensive hole, said Georgia Wells, John McKinnon, and Yun-Hee Kim in The Wall Street Journal. The world’s largest smartphone maker is in the process of recalling some 2.5 million newly released Galaxy Note 7 phones, after reports that the devices can catch fire and explode while charging because of a battery flaw. Recalling millions of devices is no easy task for any company, but Samsung’s confused response has “exacerbated the situation.” The South Korean technology giant has dragged its feet coordinating the recall with authorities in different countries, which means customers have received contradictory information on where and how to replace their phones. There have also been delays shipping new devices. It’s a business and public relations debacle that could haunt Samsung “for years to come.”
Ironically, “the Note 7 was supposed to be a victory lap for Samsung,” said Hayley Tsukayama in The Washington Post. Now it has “become synonymous with danger.” The jumbo-size smartphone debuted to rave reviews, putting Samsung in a position to overshadow Apple’s modestly improved new iPhone. Instead, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a formal recall of the Galaxy Note 7 the same week the iPhone 7 began shipping. Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration is warning airline passengers not to use or even turn on their Note 7 devices while flying, “meaning that at least a million people are hearing a warning about the Galaxy Note 7, by name, on every flight.”
Now that the recall is official, “the company can start focusing on the tough job of restoring public trust,” said Jing Cao and Yoolim Lee in Bloomberg.com. About 1 million Note 7 phones were sold in the U.S., and 97 percent of them have the battery flaw. So far, there have been more than 90 reports of batteries overheating, “with 26 cases involving burns and 55 involving property damage.” Customers can look up their device’s serial number at Samsung’s website to see whether it’s been recalled. The company says replacement phones will be available at most retail locations in the U.S. this week.
The truth is, most of us have “a ticking time bomb” in our pocket, said Alex Cranz in Gizmodo.com. If you own a rechargeable consumer electronic device, chances are it’s powered by a lithium-based battery, which is “nothing more than a mess of very flammable chemicals smooshed together and exposed to an electrical charge via electrodes.” Two decades of work by engineers have made these batteries much, much safer, especially as phones get thinner, but if there’s a design flaw, like in the Note 7, or if the battery is damaged through overheating or overcharging, watch out. The odds of an explosion actually happening are roughly 1 in 10 million for most devices, but because of these batteries’ fundamental nature, the danger “is always there.”