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Samsung wants to be back without a bang

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Samsung this week released its findings on the exploding batteries of the Note 7, but is ready to move on, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It was one of the best smartphones ever made. And it was one of the most disastrous products ever launched.

That is the maddening ambiguity behind the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, which saw 3-million units recalled after batteries began malfunctioning. This week Samsung released its findings on what went wrong. Tellingly, however, the revelation was limited to the technical flaws, and did not delve into the strategic story. That, it appears, will remain an internal autopsy.

Koh Dong-jin, President of the Mobile Communications Business division of Samsung Electronics

Koh Dong-jin, President of the Mobile Communications Business division of Samsung Electronics.

Koh Dong-jin, President of the Mobile Communications Business division of Samsung Electronics, announced the results of the investigation. He was joined on stage by executives from three independent industry groups that had conducted their own investigations into the malfunctions, namely Exponent, UL and TUV Rheinland. There was to be no cover-up.

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They agreed that a design flaw had led to the first batch of phones catching alight: The battery’s external casing was too small for its components, leading to pinching of the top corner of the battery by the pouch that held it. This caused a short-circuit and, inevitably, ignition.

To make matters worse, according to UL, when things did go wrong, the high energy density of the battery design meant they went badly wrong.

The Note 7 could have survived the initial recall, but the batteries provided by a second supplier introduced a new flaw. Not only did it have defects in the welding, or what a Samsung YouTube video described as “an abnormal weld spot” that led to an internal short circuit, but some came without protective tape.

Guess which supplier won’t be invited back in a hurry?

Koh expressed his sincere apology and gratitude to customers, operators and partners, and unveiled new measures Samsung has taken to respond to the incidents.

“Based on what the company learned from the investigation, Samsung has implemented a broad range of internal quality and safety processes to further enhance product safety,” it said in a statement released on Monday. “These include additional protocols, such as multi-layer safety measures and an Eight-Point Battery Safety Check.”

Samsung also announced a Battery Advisory Group made up of external advisers “to ensure it maintains a clear and objective perspective on battery safety and innovation”. Members include a professor of chemistry from the University of Cambridge and professors of materials science and engineering from Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley.

Koh added: “The lessons of the past several months are now deeply reflected in our processes and culture. Samsung Electronics will be working hard to regain consumer trust.”

The announcement came as a relief to local executives, who had to keep the media in a holding pattern, not only to explain the Note 7, but also to build anticipation for the forthcoming Galaxy S8.

“We are pleased that the reasons for the Galaxy Note7 incident have finally been clarified,” said Craige Fleischer, director of Integrated Mobility at Samsung South Africa. “Samsung is a company that learns from our experiences and we are committed to incorporate the learnings to evolve. Samsung’s heritage and commitment to innovation will continue.

Craige Fleischer, director of Integrated Mobility at Samsung South Africa

Craige Fleischer, director of Integrated Mobility at Samsung South Africa

And that brings us back – or rather, forward – to the phone that Samung hopes will make all the monsters of poor public relations go away. The Galaxy S8 was due to be released at about the same time as Mobile World Congress opens in Barcelona at the end of February. Traditionally, that has been both the time and venue for the new Samsung flagship phone for the past few years. This time, Samsung will give the MWC launch a miss.

This is also a tacit admission that Samsung had been moving too fast.

The Note 7 would have been regarded as a technological marvel had everything held together. Waterproof devices despite earphone and charger sockets, iris recognition technology that heralded the next generation of biometric identification, and the fastest-charging battery on a flagship phone, put Samsung on a different planet from its rival-in-chief, Apple.

The latter would later struggle to convince the market that the new iPhone 7 was a signifcant step forward from the previous version. But when the Note 7 phone and image blew up, the wannabe Samsung converts flocked back to Apple.

Fortunately for Samsung, the S7 edge launched in Bacelona last February remained one of the most desirable phones in the world. It had been launched six months before the iPhone 7, but was probably still six months ahead of it in terms of innovation. Its camera remained in a different league, while its curved edge design made it one of the few standout handsets on the market from an aesthetic point of view.

Samsung was this week expected to report record profits for the fourth quarter of 2016, which would cement its reputation as a broad-based company that could innovate profitably acrosss all consumer electronics categories. It supplies many of the microchips and display screens not only for its own appliances and handsets, but also for those of some of its competitors.

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This makes it all the more puzzling that Samsung pushed the technology edge of the Note 7 so hard. It suggests that it may have expected Apple to take the iPhone 7’s innovation much further than it did.  It also suggests that Samsung may backpedal a little in attempting to cram too much of the future into its next handset.

It says it deployed 700 researchers, working with 200 000 devices and 30 000 batteries, to uncover the flaws in the Note 7. Their job done, that army of professional fault-finders must be swarming all over any new devices being brewed in the lab.

Chances are, the next devices from Samsung will combine serious innovation with serious safety.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Welcome to world of 2099

The world of 2099 will be unrecognisable from the world of today, but it can be predicted, says one visionary. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK met him in Singapore.

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Futuristic structures tower over the landscape. Giant, alien-looking trees light up with dazzling colours amid the hundreds of plant species that grow up their trunks. Cosmetic stores sell their wares via public touch-screens, with products delivered instantly in drawers below the screens.

This is not a vision of the future. It is a sample of Singapore today. But it is also an inkling of the world we may all experience in the future.

Singapore was the venue, last week, of the World Cities Summit, where engineers, politicians, investors and visionaries rubbed shoulders as they talked about the strategies and policies that would enhance urban living in the future.

As part of the Summit, global payment technologies leader Mastercard hosted a small media briefing by one of Singapore’s leading thinkers about the future, Dr Damian Tan, managing director of Vickers Venture Partners. The company’s slogan “We invest in the extraordinary,” offers a small clue to Tan’s perspective.

“We look as far forward as 2099 because, as a venture capital firm, we invest in the long term,” he tells a group of journalists from Africa and the Middle East. “Companies explode in growth because there is value in the future. If there is no growth, they won’t explode.”

The big question that the Smart Cities Summit and Mastercard are trying to help answer is, what will cities look like in the year 2099? Tan can’t give an exact answer, but he offers a framework that helps one approach the question.

“If you want to look at 81 years into the future, and understand the change that will come, you need to double that amount and look into the past. That takes us to 1856. The difference between then and now is the difference you can expect between now and 2099.”

Click here or on the page link below to read on: Page 2: Soldiers and Health in 2099.

  •    Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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Street art goes electric

Kaspersky Lab and British street artist D*Face have unveiled the first-ever “art helmet” design at the Formula E finale for electric cars in New York.

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The ‘Save The World’ helmets will be raced by DS Virgin Racing’s drivers, Sam Bird and Alex Lynn, as they traverse the New York street circuit during the final races of the Formula E season.

The announcement signals the first art helmet by a Formula E team, continuing the heritage of art in motorsport and the cybersecurity brand’s commitment to contemporary art, creativity and innovation. D*Face took inspiration from Kaspersky Lab’s tagline, “A Company To Save The World”, and hopes that his colourful work will inspire people to take positive action.

D*Face will announce his first-ever art car design with a custom-made livery for the DS Virgin Racing Team. Its design will be released at the “Art Goes Green” event after Saturday’s race. The helmets and art car are the latest installations in the “Save the World” collection, following a major permanent public mural that was installed in Brooklyn, New York, in May.

D*Face, whose real name is Dean Stockton, said: “It is exciting to work with Kaspersky Lab on this project and create art with a real message of hope for a better future. After all, this is our world and we need to look after it. It will take every one of us to make a real lasting, impactful change. I love the mentality of the DS Virgin Racing Team and that of Formula E by showcasing sport in a way that doesn’t harm the environment, but is still just as exhilarating and fun.

“It is time for us all to stand together and make a change… be that stopping data steals, climate change, plastic waste or using damaging fuels. I want everyone to make a pledge to do one thing that will help make a change.”

As a sponsor of DS Virgin Racing Team, Kaspersky Lab is responsible for protecting the team’s devices against cyber threats. The company sees the technical environment in the global sport of Formula E as the next frontier in furthering its research and development of new technologies to keep vehicles secure in the digital world.

Sylvain Filippi, Managing Director at DS Virgin Racing, said: “The whole team fully supports this great initiative and our thanks got to Kaspersky and D*Face for their collaboration. It’s an honour to have such an innovative artist bring his talents to bear in our team ahead of the season-finale; the car, drivers’ crash helmets and mural all look amazing.”

Aldo Fucelli Pessot del Bo, Head of Global Partnerships and Sponsorships at Kaspersky Lab added: “There is a need for innovation on a global scale, both in contemporary art and in the fast-growing sport of Formula E. Now, for the first time ever, Kaspersky Lab is proudly bringing together the two sectors in an effort to Save the World and unleash creativity, encourage freedom of expression and further innovation.”

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