The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 just recently went into the history books for all the wrong reasons; It was canned just 53 days after launch due to its higher-than-usual tendency to burst into flames. Despite initially pinpointing the issue to a manufacturing flaw on batteries supplied by Samsung SDI, and switching to Amperex Technology as a new primary supplier, the new phones still burned up in largely the same manner as the pre-recall units. At that point, Samsung had to can the device just to make sure it didn’t cause any more damage than what it had already done.
Obviously, this is very bad news for Samsung, as the company’s share dropped by 8% after the announcement, with the company bracing for further financial impact and also leaves people concerned about the future of the company going forward.
In this post, I’m going to talk about the potential fallout of the demise of the Note 7 and what this means going forward.
RIVALS GET A CHANCE
In what’s perhaps an obvious fallout, Samsung’s rivals will obviously get a chance to steal the spotlight.
The most obvious one is Apple. Despite the iPhone 7 being seen as an iterative update, many reviewers find it to be a very solid choice and it’s the next choice besides the Note 7 in many consumer’s eyes due to Apple’s branding along with some selling points.
However, this is also a chance for many of Samsung’s lesser rivals to steal the spotlight.
LG may have caught a lucky break as the LG V20 is set to arrive later in the month (learn how to better launch your devices next time, please), and with the Note 7 out of the way, LG has one less device to worry about, although it may still struggle in the face of the iPhone 7, along with Google’s Pixels, which, although many will find underwhelming and maybe overpriced, will still attract some attention due to heavy marketing and carrier promotions. HTC has already extended its $150 off promotion on the HTC 10 and others will soon follow.
Samsung has left a hole open in its market dominance, and competitors will be sure to take advantage of it for as long as possible.
PUSH FOR BETTER BATTERIES
Another thing that the Note 7 fiasco has shown (or reminded) is that lithium batteries are inherently volatile.
Lithium batteries work through the chemical reaction lithium-ions and electrodes. There is the cathode, which is connected to the positive terminal, and the anode, which is connected to the negative terminal. An electrolyte goes in between the two.
Jerry Hildenbrand of Android Central explains the process quite clearly.
“When you discharge the battery (when you’re using your phone and not charging it) the cathode pushes its positively charged ions away and the negatively charged anode attracts them. Electricity flows out from the anode, through your device, then back to the cathode. Yes, electricity travels through a loop and isn’t “used up” by the thing being powered. When you charge your phone, the reverse happens and ions travel from the cathode through the electrolyte to the anode.
When these ions come in contact with the charged atoms in an electrode, an electrochemical reaction called oxidation-reduction (redox) frees the charged electrons to travel out through the battery contacts, which are connected to the electrodes. This continues to charge the lithium ions in the electrolyte until there aren’t enough left that can hold a positive charge that’s strong enough to move through the electrolyte paste, and your battery will no longer charge.”
So what causes them to catch fire? Well, one reason is that the battery may go into something called a “thermal runaway”, meaning that the battery generates way too much heat than it can vent, causing it to overheat to the point where it splits and smoke plus scalding hot sticky liquid comes out, which physically damages the devices and can burn things in whatever that liquid touches. Most lithium batteries are safe from this, however, as devices have several safeguards to prevent this from happening due to heat or bad charging. Another reason is that the battery could be punctured due to external damage, which causes a short-circuit. Hildenbrand explains why battery punctures are real;
“Because the partitions and case are thin, they’re fairly easy to puncture or tear. If the structure of the battery itself is damaged in a way that makes the electrodes touch, a short circuit will happen. The instant electrical discharge is explosive, which can (and will) heat the electrolyte and create pressure to push it out through any ruptures in the battery case. It’s hot, it’s flammable and it’s in contact with a spark. That’s a recipe for disaster.”
Source: Same as the one above
Hildenbrand also mentioned a pretty weird but useful safety precaution built into batteries;
“A thin casing is also a safety precaution, though it sounds crazy. Thinner metal is easier to rupture, so less pressure can generate inside a sealed case — essentially creating a vent hole. Pushing out flammable hot liquid under pressure isn’t a good thing. Letting more pressure build until it ruptures a thicker case is worse.”
Lithium batteries are clearly imperfect and actually pretty dangerous if everything goes south. The one fallout of this debacle is that development on new battery tech will potentially be focused on much more closely. Batteries that hold more power but also charge faster without damage, while also being safer. The main cause for concern would be the electrolyte paste, which is extremely flammable. Focus would potentially be on batteries that won’t have to rely on flammable material to make them work. It’s also worth mentioning that the fiasco would probably spread the word on the risks of lithium batteries to consumers. With the advent of cheap chargers and power supplies that could spell disaster, it was perhaps a good idea to let people know that the power-plant in their devices is actually quite volatile and they need to take care of it. The Note 7 is far from the only phone to have caught fire.
SAMSUNG, THE GALAXY S8 AND QUALITY CONTROL
Last, but certainly not the least, is what lies ahead for Samsung and the Galaxy brand.
The Galaxy Note 7 fiasco has certainly left a tainted mark on not only the reputation of the Galaxy brand, but also the brand of Samsung themselves. Samsung would have to focus on rebuilding their reputation and brand power in order to maintain their market position and to regain consumer confidence.
The next Samsung flagship, the Galaxy S8, will reportedly be unveiled on February 2017. Samsung has to make sure that the Galaxy S8 impresses so that consumers will be interested in the device. We probably won’t see much change in the exterior, but rumor has it that it will feature a pretty significant hardware bump, with rumors indicating a UHD display along with a dual-camera setup. Obviously, we won’t know until MWC 2017, but Samsung should get the memo.
Another memo would be quality control. Samsung’s failure to address the Note 7’s battery fires in the first recall is certainly something very concerning. A Bloomberg article mentioned the following;
“So the top brass at Samsung Electronics Co., including phone chief D.J. Koh, decided to accelerate the launch of a new phone they were confident would dazzle consumers and capitalize on the opportunity, according to people familiar with the matter. They pushed suppliers to meet tighter deadlines, despite loads of new features, another person with direct knowledge said. The Note 7 would have a high-resolution screen that wraps around the edges, iris-recognition security and a more powerful, faster-charging battery. Apple’s taunts that Samsung was a copycat would be silenced for good.”
It is worth noting however that the Note 7 launched about a week earlier than the Note 5, and was in stores only a couple of days apart from its predecessor. So I cannot say with certainty that the Note 7 is rushed and without clear, credible claims to back it up, this is all speculation as of this time. However, this also serves as a lesson not only to Samsung, but everyone in the industry that quality control matters. When it comes to mass-produced products, there is no such thing as a product that is totally free from defects. But, adequate quality control measures can help reduce the risk of such defects from occurring.
There’s a few more things that Samsung could learn from the debacle, like clearer communication with customers, but overall, these are what I feel should be the main things that Samsung needs to think about moving on.
The canning of the Galaxy Note 7 due to its battery faults is certainly terrible news for Samsung, and also very sad news for the entire tech world as we have lost what could have been one of the best smartphone released in 2016.
However, the death of the Note 7 should also be served as something to learn from when we move on from the debacle and see what lies in the future. Everyone has something to learn from the debacle, not just Samsung. Lesson in regards to quality control, batteries, recalls, communication, design and more will be learnt and in return, we will get much better and safer devices in the future.
Assuming everyone has learnt their lesson, the death of the Note 7 will not be in vain, as it will spur changes throughout the industry and we will get much better devices that can last longer and do more while being safer all at the same time.