What happens when one technology company tries too hard to defeat a competitor? In the case of Samsung vs. Apple, it’s one thing to steal intellectual property, but it’s something else again to make devices prone to explosions and fire.
We all know the story. Samsung expected iPhone 7 to be a boring model, so the flagship Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was launched and bristled with all kinds of technology that Apple seems to avoid for a few years. Larger OELD screen, long battery life, Touch ID-like fingerprint sensor, iris scanner for improved security, thin but strong design, and a little of everything you were not expected to find in iPhone 7.
Reality has a tendency to bite lofty expectations, and though the Galaxy Note 7 was drool worthy is came with a built-in function not found in many smartphones these days. Explosions and fires. Meanwhile, Apple moved the bar forward with iPhone 7 and though the outside case remained familiar, everything inside was improved, and unlike the Galaxy Note 7, Apple’s customers were allowed to carry iPhone 7 onto planes.
It took awhile to figure it out, but it looks now as if Samsung simply pushed the bar too far forward to maintain a thin phone that didn’t get too big. Even Samsung couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the batteries in the Note 7, but a company called Instrumental took it apart and figured out the exploding and burning phone problem.
Here’s what happened.
Samsung identified the issue as one relating to the lithium polymer battery manufacturing process by Samsung SDI, where too much tension was used in manufacturing, and offered to repair affected phones. But several weeks later, some of the batteries in those replacement units also exploded once they were in the hands of customers — causing Samsung to make the bold decision to not only recall everything, but to cancel the entire product line.
Battery problem? Almost. The teardown was revealing.
Samsung engineers designed out all of the margin in the thickness of the battery, which is the direction where you get the most capacity gain for each unit of volume. But, the battery also sits within a CNC-machined pocket — a costly choice likely made to protect it from being poked by other internal components. Looking at the design, Samsung engineers were clearly trying to balance the risk of a super-aggressive manufacturing process to maximize capacity, while attempting to protect it internally.
In other words, Samsung’s engineers pushed the boundaries of physics a bit too far. Today’s lithium batteries need a little breathing room and Samsung took that away. Boom.
What about Apple? There is little doubt that our favorite Cupertino, CA smartphone maker pushes the technology envelope as well, but historically remains somewhat conservative. No OLED screens, no giant batteries that take up all the available space inside a case, no extra RAM. etc. Instead, Apple seems to appreciate elegant design inside the iPhone’s case as well as outside and the case itself. Apple designed CPUs run rings around Samsung and Qualcomm’s best, even when the iPhone has far less RAM (which creates heat, and requires more power), so it should be obvious that Apple’s somewhat more conservative approach to engineering certain iPhone components has other benefits that Samsun was willing to discard.
Explosions and fires.