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Monday, 23 January 2017 19:38

Samsung still ignorant of root cause of Note7 fiasco Featured

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Despite its claims of testing more than 200,000 Galaxy Note7 devices, 30,000 batteries and using people from its own units and two other outfits, in the end Samsung Electronics still does not know the "root cause" of the issues it faced.

The company held an official media conference in Seoul today and also spoke to media in other countries to try and put behind a rather bad experience. iTWire has a report based on the official statements and analysis.

(The media conference was nicely timed, coming on the first working day after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, a day when the media in the US would be full of nothing else.)

The explosions of the Note7 were caused first by a battery from one supplier (Samsung SDI) that was too large for its casing — as identified by the small nine-man outfit Instrumental on its own — and a manufacturing flaw in the the line of batteries (made by Amperex) when production was ramped up to replace the first set of phones that blew up.

This ties in with what iTWire reported on Friday, quoting a report in the Wall Street Journal.

But despite these findings, Sajeev Jesudas, president of the consumer business unit at UL, one of the two independent battery examiners contracted by Samsung, was quoted in the WSJ as saying that there were "multiple contributing factors" and there needed to be more investigations to find "the root cause".

Both batteries had issues; was there a common factor leading to them? Samsung doesn't know and this means that there could well be a recurrence.

WSJ commentators gave Samsung a C for its efforts, saying the company was yet to experience what it called the "Tylenol moment". This is a reference to a recall by Johnson & Johnson in 1982 when seven people were killed by Tylenol products which had cyanide added to them. This led the company and the industry to rethink pill packaging; the new measures were viewed by the public as ensuring safety and protection.

"Samsung's work on a seal that consumers can understand — and bringing about change across the industry — is still incomplete," they wrote.

Samsung has instituted an eight-point checklist to determine in future if its phones are fit for purpose. These are a durability test, visual inspection, X-ray, charge and discharge test, total volatile organic compound test, disassembling test, accelerated usage test and a delta open circuit voltage test.

But the company has not said whether all these tests, impressive as they sound, will take its qualitative assurance standards to the level of its competitors like Apple, or whether it is playing catch-up.

Of course, competitors are unlikely to divulge what they do as part of their QA, especially in a cut-throat sector like the mobile phone industry.

One significant thing missing is an independent body that will certify mobile devices. Given that the need for running a device longer and longer on a single charge is only going to grow, the question of self-regulation does not fill one with confidence. The finance industry also was self-regulating when it experienced something that we now know as the global financial crisis.

The introduction of Samsung's next so-called flagship device, the Galaxy S8, will be delayed until after the Mobile World Congress which is scheduled for the last week of February. Samsung has introduced its new models at this show in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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