Ever since Samsung recalled, reissued, and double-recalled the Galaxy Note 7, there’s been curiosity and contention over what, exactly, killed the phone. This has ranged from the conspiratorial (Apple is paying the media to manufacture reports of fires) to the prosaic explanation that whatever battery failure killed the first round of Note 7’s either hadn’t been fixed or hadn’t been identified in the second run. Now, Samsung has released its own autopsy on what went wrong with the device — and how two problems, not just one, combined to kill it.
As previously rumored, there was a manufacturing defect in the corner of the batteries. A design flaw made the electrodes prone to bending. This could lead to a separation and short-circuit in the battery itself, and was responsible for some of the fires. This was the problem with the first set of batteries — the ones that Samsung initially reported it would replace via recall.
When the Galaxy Note 7 launched, Samsung was dual-sourcing its batteries. After it realized that one of its designs had a problem, it started switching production to another battery manufacturer, but in that case, a welding defect could lead to problems with the batteries. Some of these issues were also possibly tied to a lack of insulation tape, which should have shipped standard on the hardware but didn’t. The infographic below explains the difference between the two defects and gives some background information on the two problems.
These mistakes in the second battery run doomed the second set of devices to have exactly the same problem as the first. Samsung’s investigation into its product failure was conducted with 700 dedicated staff and the help of three extra laboratories — UL, Exponent, and TUV Rheinland. The teams tested 200,000 phones and 30,000 batteries to come to its conclusions.
More than anything, this illustrates how complex a device smartphones actually are. There was nothing wrong with the Galaxy Note 7’s design, its charging systems, or its battery programming. Instead, the problem came down to a short-circuit flaw and a company that was, perhaps, too ambitious about shoving itself into the marketplace and taking share from its primary competitor, Apple. And it makes sense that the phone wound up with a problem in two batteries.
When Samsung first recalled the Note 7, one of its battery suppliers had never had a problem. It was only when Samsung tried to ramp up production at the second battery manufacturer that it started running into issues, either because it didn’t precisely duplicate the correct manufacturing process or because the flaw was tiny enough that it only became visible when manufactured at significant scale. “We believe if not for that manufacturing issue on the ramp [of battery B], the Note 7 would still be on the market,” Samsung Electronics America head Tim Baxter told Recode.
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