October 05, 2016

Engineering malpractice

Samsung's latest phone, the "Galaxy Note 7", has a small problem: the batteries are exploding. Or catching fire. Or going up in smoke.

I am AMAZED that Samsung Q/A didn't notice this during the design process. It makes me wonder just what in hell QA was doing. Or has Samsung cut QA to the bone as a cost-saving measure? Talk about false economy!

At Qualcomm I think we had as many QA engineers as design engineers, and they put our phones through the wringer (not literally). Plus all the senior design engineers were given prototype phones with the bills paid by Qualcomm, and told to use them heavily. I myself found a hardware bug that way.

Actually, it was already known but they couldn't make it happen reliably. My contribution was that my phone and my charger would do it reliably enough so they could use it to chase down the problem. So they took them away and gave me another one.

In consumer products, poor quality is unforgiveable. You can destroy your brand reputation with one huge mistake, and customers aren't forgiving. It may take Samsung 10 years to live this one down, if they ever do.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Weird World at 05:12 PM | Comments (23) | Add Comment
Post contains 200 words, total size 1 kb.

1

When I was flying home about a month ago, they were announcing before boarding every single flight that the Galaxy Note 7 couldn't be used on the plane or stored in checked baggage, and this was reinforced in the flight attendant's safety brief.

I remember thinking it was good that I didn't have Samsung stock.

Posted by: CatCube at October 05, 2016 05:35 PM (vFfuK)

2 For Halloween this year, I think I'll replace my demon mask with a Galaxy Note 7.

-j

Posted by: J Greely at October 05, 2016 06:14 PM (CLiR9)

3 They did a recall and have been replacing the old bad dangerous phones with an updated phone they say is safe.

One of the new replacement phones just exploded on a jet.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 05, 2016 06:20 PM (+rSRq)

4 I suspect it's really a recalled model, and the guy just claimed it was the replacement model.  The replacements have only just started shipping, so he'd have to have been at the head of the line and coincidentally have gotten a faulty phone.

There have been a couple of instances of the latest iPhone catching fire too, but nothing like the numbers of the Note 7.

I was looking at my device stack after seeing this story.  I have an LG notebook, an iPad 3, a Nexus 10, a Sony tablet, a Sony phone, and my new Motorola G4 all stacked up and charging on my desk.*  I haven't burned the house down yet, but it gave me pause.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at October 05, 2016 08:32 PM (PiXy!)

5

My HTC phone is nearly 4 years old and I've never had any problems with it. Everyone once in a while Verizon tries to convince me to get a new phone (and, just incidentally, sign a new contract) but I'm not interested. This one does everything I want it to, so as long as it works there's no reason to replace it.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 05, 2016 08:46 PM (+rSRq)

6 It seems that other replacement phones have also burned. Samsung has stopped sales of the phone and it recommends existing customers replace them with "another Samsung smartphone or other smartphone of their choice."

If Samsung is on the hook to pay for those replacements, then this is a financial catastrophe for the company.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 09, 2016 08:18 PM (+rSRq)

7 Yeah, it's bad; all the carriers are stopping sales of the Note 7 now.  It's pretty much dead, and Samsung will have to do a lot of work to sell the Note 8.

But they're a big company; quarterly sales are around $50 billion and profits on the order of $7 billion.  They're unlikely to even post a quarterly loss on this.

That said, it's likely to cost them a couple of billion at least, and that's going to promote a rethink in QA processes.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at October 10, 2016 01:07 AM (PiXy!)

8 Also, my $199 Moto G4 ($149 in the US, or as low as $99 with Amazon Prime) has a removable battery, which would have made the whole thing a non-event.  Ship replacement batteries out, throw the old ones away, total cost ~$50 million instead of ~$2 billion.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at October 10, 2016 01:15 AM (PiXy!)

9 Yeah, we replaced our (Sony Ericsson) phones a few weeks ago; Me because AT&T was going to drop service for it, my wife because she had broken her's. That last had prompted the visit, I had till the end of the year.

While we were at T-Mobile waiting to look at our new phones, (Settled on the Stylo 2) at least two people walked in to exchange their Notes. And not with new Notes, either!

Posted by: Brett Bellmore at October 10, 2016 01:52 AM (l55xw)

10 Probably going to be a lot fewer people buying high-end phones over time anyway, now that they tend to cost $6-900, with carrier subsides going away.  I bought an LG G3 two years ago, and my contract ends on Christmas Eve, but instead of getting an expensive one through my carrier, I bought a Nexus 5X directly from Google (and signed up for their new carrier, Fi, too, to get a  $150 discount on the phone, so it only cost $200.)  I also bought an 8" Asus tablet, which lets me play games just as well as the phone, but also, with a much bigger screen, is much nicer for reading web pages and books and so on.

Posted by: RickC at October 10, 2016 08:31 AM (ECH2/)

11 And now they've stopped making it and have recalled all remaining stock.  What a mess.

Like RickC I find a cheap or mid-range phone and a tablet to work much better than a large top-of-the-line phone.  By the time a phone is big enough to work well for email and web browsing it's too big to fit in anything but a large coat pocket, and I don't even own a coat.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at October 11, 2016 04:30 PM (PiXy!)

12

I saw a report that this fiasco might end up costing Samsung $18 billion, not counting damage to the brand. It's obvious that the "Note" product line is history, and the Samsung brand for phones has take a hit below the water line.

The Samsung corporation will survive this, but they may end up getting out of the phone business entirely.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 11, 2016 06:21 PM (+rSRq)

13 It's going to be interesting watching the lawsuits fly. For one thing, if it turns out this is a flaw in the batteries, Samsung will probably sue the battery maker into the ground. For another, I bet there's going to be a class action suit against Samsung on behalf of phone owners.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 11, 2016 06:24 PM (+rSRq)

14 I don't know about that, but YMMV.

I've got a Samsung Galaxy S4 and my wife's got a Samsung Galaxy S5.

Both of them are superior to that *bleeping* IPhone 5 that my wife had bought.  (And that was because I advised her to do so, assuming that Apple knew how to make products for people who don't love to fiddle with configuring their phones.  I won't make that mistake again.)

Posted by: Mark A. Flacy at October 11, 2016 06:29 PM (w0U7L)

15

If this is a battery flaw, and if it is a rare one (like one in a hundred thousand) then it becomes easier to believe it could get by Samsung QA without being noticed.

It could well be that rare. They've sold millions of these phones and maybe 40 or 50 have died.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 11, 2016 06:30 PM (+rSRq)

16 Samsung's market cap has dropped by $18 billion.  I very much doubt they'll stop making phones - basically there's only two companies making money off mobile phones these days, and the other one is Apple.

But the Note range is likely history.

Samsung had two sources for batteries for the Note 7, and one of them was another division of Samsung.  Reportedly those were the ones that had problems.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at October 11, 2016 07:41 PM (PiXy!)

17 Oh, boy. I have a feeling that there's a Sr. VP about to resign.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 11, 2016 08:23 PM (+rSRq)

18 Actually, after a fuckup of this magnitude I would expect the CEO to go.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 11, 2016 08:28 PM (+rSRq)

19

The Samsung brand will definitely survive this; they're by far the biggest conglomerate in Korea.  They've got their fingers in so many pies you don't hear about here in the US.  Shipbuilding, insurance, and construction, for starters.  For example, they're the prime contractor for the new US Army hospital at Camp Humphrey.

Posted by: CatCube at October 11, 2016 10:34 PM (vFfuK)

20

And now the latest rumor is that the real source of the problem is that the phone was pushing recharge times to the bare minimum, and as a result was damaging the batteries.

Definitely possible.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 12, 2016 01:05 PM (+rSRq)

21 I have a feeling that there's a Sr. VP about to resign.

And by "resign", you mean "found shot in the head six times, with a dagger sticking out of his back, a noose around his neck, and in a cement mixer."

Posted by: Wonderduck at October 12, 2016 03:32 PM (vZvpB)

22 I don't think they'll go that far, even for $18 billion.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 12, 2016 04:11 PM (+rSRq)

23 Worst case of resignation I ever saw.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at October 12, 2016 05:12 PM (PiXy!)

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