The video on YouTube was hauntingly familiar. A charred case and broken glass on what was once a smartphone made it clear that something terrible had happened.
The video narrator explained that the charred phone was once a Samsung Galaxy Note7, which had spontaneously burned while the owner wasn’t looking.
Samsung executives saw that video too. Then they heard reports of dozens of other Galaxy Note7 devices going up in flames, or even exploding in a couple of cases. Even though a million of the devices were already in the hands of customers, Samsung took the responsible route and recalled them.
Meanwhile, the other Galaxy Note7 phablets already in the pipeline were pulled or removed from store shelves and carriers shut down any sales.
Existing owners of the Galaxy Note7 will have to wait for device replacements presumably for as long as it takes Samsung to solve the battery problem and return the devices to the market. Fortunately for U.S. owners, that may happen as soon as the week of Sept. 9.
In the meantime, they have a quandary, which is what to do with a potentially hazardous phone? Suggestions for proper handling are all over the internet—some practical such as setting it aside and not using it and some not-so-practical such as burying it in sand until you can get rid of it.
For companies that may have put some of these devices into service, the problem becomes one that’s somewhat more complex. How do you protect your employees from a hazardous device? How do you protect your facilities from what may be a collection of many potentially flammable devices? What do you do about the business data that may already be on the device while you’re disposing of the suspicious Note7?
The problems with the Galaxy Note7 go back to problems with lithium ion batteries, not just in phones, but in a wide range of devices that use power supplies with this battery technology. A few years ago there were videos of burning laptops all over YouTube. More recently, there was a vast selection of videos showing hoverboards burning in fires caused by lithium ion battery packs. Now it’s Samsung’s turn.
The problem with lithium ion batteries isn’t specifically the fault of the technology. The problem boils down to the amount of electrical energy such a battery can hold and the manufacturing tolerances that much be maintained for the battery to safely contain that energy.
The biggest challenge is maintaining chemical purity in the manufacturing process because a tiny amount of metallic contamination inside the battery is all that it takes for the batteries to generate enough heat to burst into flames.
While Samsung isn’t saying exactly what happened with the batteries in the Galaxy Note7, likely because their investigation isn’t complete, the company does know it’s a problem with the manufacturing process. Samsung said as much in the company’s official statement, emailed to eWEEK.
“In response to recently reported cases of the new Galaxy Note7, we conducted a thorough investigation and found a battery cell issue,” a Samsung spokesperson said in a prepared statement.
Samsung Galaxy Note7 Latest Casualty of Lithium Ion Battery Fires
“To date [as of Sept. 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,” Samsung said.
The Samsung statement also said that the company will replace existing Galaxy Note7 devices over the coming weeks, which in the U.S. turns out to be next week.
Samsung has just announced a U.S. Product Exchange Program in which existing owners can trade their recalled Note7 devices for new devices, presumably without the tendency to catch fire. They can also choose a Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge, plus accessories, to make up the difference in value. And there’s a $25 gift card or bill credit to sweeten the pot.
If you have several Galaxy Note7 devices in your offices that haven’t been distributed and are still in sealed boxes, call your supplier and return them for a refund or replacement, since this is clearly a warranty issue. For devices that have been distributed to employees, the best solution is to recall them and replace them with some other device, even if it’s the older phones they were using before the Note7s arrived.
Once you have the devices that you’ve retrieved from your employees, see if you can return them to your supplier. If you can’t, then store the devices away from flammable objects (including other Note7s) and start issuing something else to employees who need a device.
It’s worth noting that the Galaxy Note7 problem emerged only a few days before the introduction of Apple’s iPhone 7. If you bought your company’s Galaxy Note7 devices from your carrier, you now have the leverage you need to either swap them for the soon-to-be-released iPhone 7 devices or to swap them for existing iPhone 6s Plus devices, which should fill most of the same requirements. It’s worth noting that Apple has an app specifically for transferring data from an Android device to the iPhone.
Remember, your carrier or other supplier is a lot more interested in keeping you on as a customer than they are in making your company suffer through a long period with potentially risky devices. This is the time to make that point with them.
For future device acquisitions, there are some ideas that are worth paying attention to. First, never buy a new device when it first comes out if it’s going to be critical for your business. Second, make sure you test the devices thoroughly before you incorporate any new device into your daily operations.
Of course, everyone is going to want the latest, coolest device regardless of whether there’s any immediate need for its capabilities, but that’s not the same thing as what they need.
What your company needs is a reliable tool to help in the operation of your business. When that tool, in this case a smartphone, fails to deliver or, worse, can potentially injure employees or cause serious damage, then you don’t need it in your company, regardless of how cool it is.