Over the past few weeks, Samsung’s ‘exploding’ Galaxy Note 7 has caught headlines, with reports that there had been a ‘spate of explosions’ due to faulty batteries. In fact, this amounted to just 35 red-hot or fiery phones among an initial batch of 2.5million – an incidence of danger that, while regrettable, is still vanishingly small. But that was hardly mentioned.
Samsung made headlines again when a handful of replacement models in the US also became red-hot pokers. Samsung has since instituted a blanket halt to sales, and has permanently closed down the manufacture of the Note 7. A BBC newscaster suggested that Samsung had ‘gone up in smoke’.
What the sensationalist press reports missed is that many products experience teething problems. While one or two people ended up in hospital as a result of the defective phones, no one was seriously hurt or killed. Samsung’s critics, it seems, would rather throw mud than put these accidents in context. And sadly, this may have a chilling effect on future innovation.
The Note 7 works underwater and checks its user’s identity by scanning the user’s iris. Unless radical new products like this are allowed to fail a bit, there will be no progress. In the US, there were barely any problems reported by Note 7 users. And yet, as soon as word got out about the defects, telecoms companies like AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon were quick to offer users other deals and handsets.
Samsung will not go up in smoke because of the Note 7. It is a company with a turnover of €177 billion (£159 billion). In 2014, its R&D budget stood at more than €12 billion (£10 billion), which was worth a creditable 7.9 per cent of sales and was topped, worldwide, only by Volkswagen. These massive figures cover just the electronics section of the Korean conglomerate, which also handles construction, trading, chemicals, electromechanical gear and more besides.