What it is: Samsung’s latest Galaxy Note 7 smartphone battery has exploded in a handful of incidents.
Samsung currently has two problems. First, the batteries in a small percentage of Galaxy Note 7 smartphones has exploded, burning houses, cars, and even people. While it’s likely that these exploding batteries are simply defects, this problem has highlighted several problems with Samsung.
First, there’s the huge problem with the way Samsung has handled this issue. When devices fail, it’s customary to replace them within their warranty period. However, when devices risk causing damage to people and property, then it’s critical to recall these devices as quickly as possible and repair or replace them, and this is where Samsung is failing.
Samsung needs to work with government agencies to officially announce a recall. Such an official recall makes it illegal to sell recalled products. Instead of issuing an official recall through government agencies, Samsung has created a voluntary program for Galaxy Note 7 owners to return their defective smartphones in.
More importantly, this exploding battery issue highlights two critical problems with Samsung’s business model in general. One reason why Samsung smartphones have such large screens is because Samsung wasn’t able to shrink their batteries small enough to fit within the much smaller size of earlier smartphone designs like the iPhone 4. Since creating a smartphone the same size as the iPhone 4 with the same battery life was too difficult for Samsung and other Android manufacturers, they simply opted to make larger smartphones that could hold larger batteries.
This highlights the efficiency issue with Android vs. iOS. With the iPhone, Apple can optimize the hardware and the software to work together to consume less power. With Android manufacturers using off the shelf parts, such optimization is much more difficult. The result is that Android manufacturers need bigger batteries to provide the same level as power as the smaller battery of the iPhone.
On paper the technical specifications of Android phones look more impressive by sporting a larger battery, but when that larger battery simply gives you the same time between recharging as the smaller battery of the iPhone, it means the larger battery is a smokescreen to mask the fact that the larger battery is necessary to power less efficient hardware.
Once Android manufacturers like Samsung opted for larger batteries to match the power output of the smaller, more efficient batteries of the iPhone, they had a second problem. Recharging a larger battery takes longer than recharging a smaller battery. So Samsung and other Android manufacturers had to increase the recharge times of the larger battery to make sure it could recharge within roughly the same amount of time as the smaller battery of the iPhone.
So here’s the problem. Samsung needed a larger battery and also needed a faster recharging time. This pushed the battery capabilities to the limit, which has unfortunately resulted in the current defects that are causing Samsung batteries to explode.
This isn’t to say that batteries can’t be larger or can’t be recharged faster, but it does indicate that Samsung perhaps pushed the technology too fast without adequate testing. It’s likely not a deliberate decision to overlook the exploding battery problems, but an unforeseen problem that Samsung didn’t anticipate. Samsung simply had to use a larger battery with faster recharge times to keep their hardware competitive with the iPhone. Such a larger battery and faster recharge time simply masks the inefficiency of Android smartphones in general.
A third problem with this exploding battery disaster is the way Samsung is trying to minimize the damage. Beyond voluntary recalls, Samsung hopes to issue an update that prevents the battery from charging more than 60% of its capacity. This will prevent explosions (hopefully) but also reduce the battery life of Samsung phones.
The problems with this solution is that it relies on updating Android on these affected Samsung smartphones, and the whole ecosystem of Android is designed to sell new devices, not update existing ones.
The main way for Android manufacturers to make money is to sell new Android devices. Updating existing Android devices takes time and money while bringing in zero revenue, so Android manufacturers have zero incentive to make updating Android fast, easy, or simple, and that’s now working against Samsung’s update plan.
It’s fine to issue an update to minimize battery capacity at 60%, but getting that update to Samsung smartphone owners isn’t easy because such updates typically must go through carriers, and the carriers don’t want to spend time and money on something that won’t bring in additional revenue. That’s the whole problem with Android; nobody has a reason to update it but everyone has a reason not to update it because updating takes time and money.
Android exists solely to make money through sales of new devices, not through updating existing devices. Apple gets away with updating devices because they take care of all the technical details because it’s in Apple’s best interests to keep people updated to the latest version of iOS so they’ll have a better user experience. That’s because Apple not only makes money when they sell new devices, but when people use existing iPhones or iPads to buy music, buy e-books, or use Apple Pay.
In short, Apple makes money when they sell new devices or when people use existing devices. Android manufacturers only make money when they sell new devices, so they have no desire to waste time and money on improving Android once people have bought an Android device.
Android is designed not to be updated easily as a way to encourage people to buy new Android devices. Unfortunately, this very nature also makes it difficult for Samsung to issue an update to all Samsung Galaxy Note 7 owners to prevent their batteries from exploding.
So the problem with Samsung’s exploding batteries depends on several flaws with Android:
- Android hardware and software is not as efficient and optimized as the iPhone and iPad, forcing the need for larger batteries to compensate
- Larger batteries take longer to recharge, forcing faster recharging technology
- Android updates aren’t easily distributed because Android manufacturers have no incentive to make updating easy, simple, or fast
It’s possible that exploding batteries could become a problem with future iPhone models as well, but the chance of this happening is less than because iPhones and iPads don’t require such a large battery since they’re more efficient, they don’t need faster recharging technology because they don’t need much larger batteries, and if problems do occur, Apple can easily update iOS much faster than Android manufacturers can do.
Exploding batteries are a technical issue, but they also highlight flaws in the Android ecosystem from hardware inefficiencies to incentives that work against making updates easy and simple. Ultimately, Android as an operating system and Android hardware isn’t as efficient or optimized as well as it should be. When Android manufacturers have to rely on increased hardware to match the performance of lesser hardware in the iPhone, that’s a clear signal something is wrong with the world of Android.