In an unprecedented move, Samsung ordered a halt on production of their Galaxy Note 7 phones amidst increasing reports that their now-infamous gadgets keep bursting into flames all over the world. The move was a massive financial blow for the South Korean electronics giant, as its third-quarter profit was cut by a third.
Now, there’s an even more pressing problem: Samsung’s engineers reportedly can’t replicate the problem. Galaxy Note 7 smartphones have been combusting everywhere, causing house fires, airplane delays, and even government investigations. Close to two months after the first report, the company still has no idea why the phones insist on catching fire, despite hundreds of employees working on the situation, the New York Times reports.
Samsung initially announced that the problem was with some of the phone’s batteries, blaming its affiliate Samsung SDI for a “minor manufacturing flaw.” But replacement models using different batteries from a separate supplier proved to have the same issues. This prompted the company to issue a recall of all Galaxy Note 7 phones, withdrawing them from the market.
Park Chul-wan, a former director of the Center for Advanced Batteries at the Korea Electronics Technology Institute, said that Samsung was too quick to blame the batteries. He adds that the complexity of the device was one primary reason why engineers were finding it difficult to work out why some models were defective. “The Note 7 had more features and was more complex than any other phone manufactured,” Pak said.
In a race to surpass iPhone, Samsung seems to have packed it with so much innovation it became uncontrollable.
Engineers are reportedly finding it problematic to work under Samsung’s strict corporate culture, which banned employees from emailing each other on their findings and theories. Fearful of potential lawsuits should any digital communications fall into the wrong hands, the company’s execs insist on offline-only discussions. Two former Samsung employees described the company as “militaristic,” in that workers acquiesce to the orders from seniors who may not understand the technology – a factor that likely contributed to the whole dilemma.
Independent investigators say that the replacement phones may have caught fire because of a flaw in the new batteries, different from the defect in the original batteries, which still calls into question Samsung’s quality control and judgment regarding its suppliers.