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What will we do when the first Galaxy S8 catches on fire?


The Galaxy S8 is fresh and new, but is saddled with the baggage of the Note 7.

Lithium-ion and Lithium-polymer batteries can fail, and when they do, they often do so catastrophically. This was the crux of the Galaxy Note 7 saga: phones didn’t just stop working or even puff a little smoke, they caught on fire and damaged property and harmed people. The new Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ have the same type of batteries in them as the Galaxy Note 7 did — a different design, and with dramatically more quality control checks for sure, but the same basic battery technology.

The problem for Samsung is that the Note 7 has not been completely forgotten.

And just like we’ve seen for years, some very small percentage of any given phone model — even prestigious brands like Samsung and Apple — will have instances of battery failures. That’s unfortunately expected, and a good reminder for everyone that you shouldn’t consider these devices entirely failproof — they can be dangerous if not designed and managed properly. The problem for Samsung, of course, is that the Note 7 has not been completely washed from our collective minds. The instances of “Note 7” written in articles about the newly announced Galaxy S8 are inescapable, and average consumers still make that association.

So even though the Galaxy S8’s battery design is dramatically improved, and the quality control standards have been beefed up, there is bound to be a battery failure at some point — there’s a good chance it would be completely unrelated to Samsung’s technology, like a physically damaged device, a bad charger or a combination of outside factors. But unlike the dozens of instances that happen every year with other phones, a new Galaxy phone catching on fire will unfortunately be headline news once again, even though no physical components carried over from the Note 7 to the Galaxy S8.

A Galaxy S8 will catch fire — the question is how people react.

The question for me is how responsible news outlets handle the information, and how Samsung reacts to the situation. At the start of the Galaxy Note 7’s battery fiasco, it was a rational response to say “well, these lithium batteries can fail, that’s not surprising” and give Samsung the benefit of the doubt for having sourced high-quality batteries until it was proved otherwise (which it eventually was). The issue now is that second part isn’t a given — Samsung can’t prove that its batteries won’t catch fire … because the only way it can do that now is to have something not happen. It has to ship tens of millions of Galaxy S8s and then wait for the public to regain whatever trust was lost.

There will be overreactions from some if this situation plays out as expected. Overreaction isn’t warranted, I don’t think, but skepticism certainly is.


Now for some quick hits on the week that was:

And with that, I’m off on a vacation for the next two weeks. My goal, of course, is to make everyone jealous via posts on social media.

-Andrew



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