Samsung to Send Out Note7 Software Update to Totally Disable Charging

NEWS ANALYSIS: Samsung is so determined to shut off any surviving Galaxy Note7 smartphones that it is sending out a software update that will totally disable battery charging. But not all mobile carriers are cooperating.

Samsung Note7 Kill Order

In an ominous note on the company website, Samsung has begun telling its recalcitrant owners that 93 percent return rate for its dangerously defective Galaxy Note7 smartphones isn't good enough.

The company wants all of its ill-fated phones to be turned in regardless of the wishes of the phone's owners. To make sure that happens, the company is issuing an update that will prevent the phone from charging its batteries.

"To further increase participation, a software update will be released starting on Dec. 19 and will be distributed within 30 days," Brenna Eller, Samsung Corporate Communications stated, in the company's official statement.

"This software update will prevent U.S. Galaxy Note7 devices from charging and will eliminate their ability to work as mobile devices. Together with our carrier partners, we will be notifying consumers through multiple touchpoints to encourage any remaining Galaxy Note7 owners to participate in the program and to take advantage of the financial incentives available."

Once charging is disabled this doesn't mean you can't use the phone. It means that you can only use it when it's plugged into a power supply. This effectively takes the battery out of the equation and it's those exploding batteries that caused the problem.

Samsung is depending on mobile carriers to pass along the software update that disables charging. But not all carriers are complying.

Verizon has announced that the company will not comply with Samsung's request and will not send out the fatal update. Other major carriers are planning to send out the update, but not until after the Christmas holiday.

Interestingly, all of the carriers cite customer safety as the reason they're doing whatever it is that they're doing with the Note7. Verizon says its actions are for the safety of people who might not have another way to call for help in an emergency.

"Verizon will not be taking part in this update because of the added risk this could pose to Galaxy Note7 users that do not have another device to switch to," a Verizon spokesperson said in the company's statement. "We will not push a software upgrade that will eliminate the ability for the Note7 to work as a mobile device in the heart of the holiday travel season. We do not want to make it impossible to contact family, first responders or medical professionals in an emergency situation."

A T-Mobile spokesperson told eWEEK in an email that the company would pass along the update. "We always want to do the right thing and make sure our customers are safe," the T-Mobile statement said, "so on Dec. 27 we will roll out Samsung’s latest software update, which is designed to stop all remaining Note7 devices from charging."

AT&T, meanwhile, is making certain that every Galaxy Note7 user gets the message by sending out an SMS text message to all of them. Spokesman Fletcher Cook sent a copy of the message to eWEEK: "As of 1/5/2017, Samsung’s software update to prevent the Galaxy Note7 battery from recharging will be pushed to your Note7. The battery will no longer recharge. This Note7 was recalled and is banned on all flights in both checked and carry-on luggage. Your safety is our priority, please return your Note7 to the place you purchased [it] for an exchange. For more details go to att.com/note7." AT&T is also providing an extensive FAQ just in case there's any doubt among its customers about the need to turn in their Note7 devices.

Sprint is providing a statement on its website, along with instructions for what to do with a Note7. Notably, Sprint is making its exchange offer to customers of any Note7 device, regardless of where it came from. Sprint's update will start on Jan. 8, 2017.

Samsung is taking this action despite the fact that a previous update reduced the ability of the phone to charge more than 60 percent of capacity. Whether the latest action indicates that Samsung is more worried about the Note7 than it appears, or whether the company simply wants to put the Note7 behind it isn't clear. But what is clear is that Samsung is determined to eradicate the Note7 from the mobile marketplace.

But suppose you really like your Note7 and yours hasn't exploded. Perhaps there has been no evidence even slight overheating. Well, you can always use it while plugged in to a charger. Or, if you know how to refuse an update and know which update will deliver the fatal blow, then perhaps you can subvert Samsung's plans. Or you just could be in luck if you're a Verizon customer.

Otherwise these isn't much you can do. Samsung wants to kill your smartphone and apparently will go to great lengths to do that. Of course it may not matter whether you can use it as a mobile device because it's now illegal to take a Note7 on any aircraft flying in the United States.

It's also illegal to carry it on board any passenger train and even on some commuter transit systems. Basically all you can do with a Note7 now is to use it at home or in your car when it's plugged in. So the update may not make that much difference to you.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...