Samsung Note 7 recall is perhaps the largest in history, but it's the right thing to do

We all heard of Samsung's announcement last week of halting sales of the Note 7. The reason was even scarier. And the corrective action is among the largest smartphone recalls in history, according to the Wall Street Journal. Turns out batteries sourced from supplier were evidently having a flaw. In a stiffly competitive market, there's no room for error. The industry will latch on to every possible opportunity to put down competition.


We all heard of Samsung's announcement last week of halting sales of the Note 7. The reason was concerning. And the corrective action is among the largest smartphone recalls in history, according to the Wall Street Journal. Turns out batteries sourced from its supplier were evidently having a flaw. In a stiffly competitive market, there's no room for error. The industry will latch on to every possible opportunity to put down competition.

In its official statement, Samsung said:

“Samsung is committed to producing the highest quality products and we take every incident report from our valued customers very seriously. In response to recently reported cases of the new Galaxy Note7, we conducted a thorough investigation and found a battery cell issue.

“To date (as of September 1) there have been 35 cases that have been reported globally and we are currently conducting a thorough inspection with our suppliers to identify possible affected batteries in the market. However, because our customers’ safety is an absolute priority at Samsung, we have stopped sales of the Galaxy Note7.

“For customers who already have Galaxy Note7 devices, we will voluntarily replace their current device with a new one over the coming weeks.

“We acknowledge the inconvenience this may cause in the market but this is to ensure that Samsung continues to deliver the highest quality products to our customers. We are working closely with our partners to ensure the replacement experience is as convenient and efficient as possible.”

In this case, with the entity being Samsung, what better opportunity to come down all guns blazing? Not very long ago, Volkswagen had reached the top spot as the world's largest automaker. It was followed by praise for brilliance, superior engineering and more. What followed was unfortunate. Did we guess, in our wildest dreams that a huge scam was in the making? In less that 6 months, Toyota regained the lead position.

On Friday, I noticed a hilarious tweet by HTC USA.

https://twitter.com/HTCUSA/status/771766058772344832

That's welcome. We need a light hearted industry. But somehow it doesn't end at humour. It's evidently subtweeting. We'd agree it goes into desperate measures to boost sentiment, gain customer engagement and hopefully translate it into device sales. Would it help recall that a couple of years ago, the HTC One X had an instance of a device explosion in its home turf Taiwan? This doesn't make one right or the other wrong. Similarly, there are instances of other manufacturers who have faced a similar problem. There wouldn't be a single manufacturer that could claim a far superior track record. As it is popularly believed, you err on one, you err on all.

The problem lies in existing battery technologies. Whether we're aware of it or not, Lithium-ion batteries which account for most rechargeable devices in the market contain a flammable electrolyte under heavy pressure. It reacts with water to form Lithium hydroxide and hydrogen gas. Under exothermic conditions, this takes on an explosive identity. But there is hope. As research gets better, technologies would improve and bring about safer batteries to power smartphones.

All said and done, acknowledging a fault, and taking corrective action to prevent a larger catastrophe is the right thing to do. At the scale at which Samsung operates, each statistical quantity is far higher than most other manufacturers, and the costs to correct faults also increase. 35 incidents are significant, despite the minuscule nature of approximately 1 error in a million or less. It is still a higher statistical incidence compared to other manufacturers.

Finally, user safety is everyone's primary concern. And halting sales means even users in far fetched markets will not be able to buy devices that could have a faulty battery, and in turn prove costly. We would continue to review devices, advice users to opt in or opt out from buying a particular device. We may like the hardware of the Note 7. We may or may not like the OS on a particular device. We wouldn't know for sure till we've tested them. What we do know is we would continue to objectively praise and criticise Samsung for good and bad, respectively. But when a flaw creeps into the system and is identified, owned, and acted upon responsibly, then it's the sign of a responsible and sustainable identity.


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