Friday, September 02, 2016

Are you carrying a bomb in your pocket?

Just over 10 years ago, I went on my first media adventure when, as an analyst, I found myself in the middle of Dell's exploding laptop debacle. Although by then I had been getting quoted in trade publications for a couple of years, this was the first story that leaped out of the tech press and landed smack in the middle of mainstream media. CBS News picked the story up, and my name ended up in all sorts of crazy places.

Fast-forward to today and it's time for another media frenzy involving exploding and flaming hardware. Except this time it isn't Dell. It's Samsung. The company is recalling all of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones because a small number of them could potentially ignite under certain circumstances. The company has received reports of 35 fires related to a flaw in the unit's lithium-ion battery. Because it can't track down precisely which devices are affected, it's issued a global recall notice.

It's an unprecedented move that couldn't have come at a worse time for Samsung. The company had just begun to turn things around this year after a few years of challenged revenue and profitability. The Galaxy Note 7 is its new flagship model. It was introduced only two weeks ago, and there's a lot riding on its success. Although Samsung is the world's largest smartphone maker, Apple continues to squeeze far more profit out of each iPhone sold. The smaller Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, released earlier this year, had begun to turn the tide and the company's profits and revenues had improved last quarter. This recall could put an end to the turnaround. And as Apple prepares to launch its next-generation iPhones next Wednesday, Samsung's stumble puts it at a distinct disadvantage.

As you can imagine, media interest in this has been intense. Here's a rundown of who I've spoken to so far today:

Newstalk 1010 Toronto - John Moore
Newstalk 1290 London - Lisa Brandt & Ken Eastwood
AM1150 Kelowna - Phil Johnson
CTV News Channel - Marcia MacMillan
CTV News Channel - Beverly Thomson
Newstalk 1290 London - Al Coombs

CTV News also posted this piece: 'Almost like little bombs': Why do lithium-ion batteries explode?, byline Daniel Otis

So what do you do if you have a Samsung Galaxy Note 7? Get in touch with the folks you bought it from - visit the store or go online - to find out if your unit is one of the units with a defective battery. Samsung is preparing replacement units for customers, and says it will take approximately two weeks to get everything in place.

In the meantime, carefully watch where you charge it - on a hard surface, with no other materials anywhere near the unit - and monitor the phone as it charges to ensure it doesn't overheat. Do not leave them unattended, and pull the plug if the device, the cable or the charger become too warm.

Even if you use another brand of phone, follow these guidelines to ensure you don't become a fiery statistic. Don't assume that Samsung is the only company whose phones may have issues with hot and/or exploding batteries. It's an industry-wide issue (even Apple's Macs once had, um, issues.) The lithium-ion batteries at the core of virtually every mobile device sold today are, in effect, little packages of highly combustible chemicals. Defects in manufacturing, software or damage to the units themselves can quickly result in something known as a runaway thermal event - aka fire, explosion or both.

It's another example of just how unpredictable the tech world can be, and how careful consumers need to be about what they buy, and how they care for it once they're using it every day. Batteries are not to be trifled with, and now we have another, highly visible example.

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