Samsung: We Take Responsibility But It's The Batteries' Fault

In a press conference this morning, Samsung blamed two unnamed suppliers for the batteries that overheated and exploded in its subsequently recalled Galaxy Note 7 smartphone last year while admitting that it should have done more testing before the phones went on the market. Samsung’s initial reaction to the problem last fall was heavily criticized.

“We are taking responsibility for our failure to ultimately identify and verify the issues arising out of the battery design and manufacturing process prior to the launch of the Note 7,” Koh Dong-jin, president of Samsung’s mobile communications business, said during the presentation. 

It “indirectly indicated that the phone’s overall design, rushed production decisions, and quality assurance carelessness had an adverse impact on the phone,” writes Chris Smith for BGR.



Koh also “said procedures had been put in place to avoid a repeat of the fires as the South Korean firm prepares to launch the Galaxy S8, its first premium handset since the Note 7's demise,” report Reuters’ Hyunjoo Jin and Se Young Lee. “… He did not comment on when the company planned to launch the handset, though analysts expect it to start selling by April,” they write, pointing out that it will not be part of the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona late next month.

“The lessons of this incident are deeply reflected in our culture and process,” Koh said. “Samsung Electronics will be working hard to regain consumer trust.”

Early reactions to the mea culpa were mixed.

“During the almost hourlong presentation, Samsung offered an extensive technical explanation of the problems with the battery but little insight into the breakdowns that caused the company to fail to identify the problems,” Paul Mozur writes for the New York Times. “Koh said the lessons the company had learned had been integrated into its processes and culture, yet offered no explanation of how the culture would change or what the problems with the culture were.”

The hed on Forbes contributor Maribel Lopez’ piece, however, asserts that Samsung is turning the crisis into an opportunity. 

“Going forward, Samsung has a new quality assurance process that both Samsung and its component manufacturers must follow. It has implemented a multi-layer safety measures protocol at the product planning and a new 8-point battery safety system,” which she bullet-points.  

Lopez, a marker researcher, points out that “Samsung will also contribute its learnings and processes for testing Lithium Ion batteries to various global standardization bodies” so other vendors can also conduct tests on their products. “While it’s been a difficult time for Samsung, the company took ownership of the issues, acted quickly and worked diligently to fix its problems,” she concludes, predicting a “strong comeback.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Geoffrey A. Fowler and Joanna Stern give Samsung a gentleperson’s C — “for now” — after having had personal sessions with the Samsung team prior to yesterday’s event.

“Samsung is on an apology tour for the gobsmacking screwup that led to two successive recalls of the Note 7. In interviews with us, Samsung’s mobile chief, DJ Koh, and other executives shared stacks of testing photos, results of its investigation and its plans to improve quality control,” they write after pointing out that having two different sets of batteries by two different manufacturers catch fire is “like a meteor striking your house — twice.”

And Samsung’s 8-point battery check leaves them perplexed: “We don’t have a clear sense of whether these tests will raise the bar on safety, or simply catch Samsung up to other premium smartphone makers,” they say.

“The biggest task for Samsung this year will be regaining consumer trust, showing customers and potential customers that its devices are safe and that the company won't make the same mistakes again. Its top executives, speaking with CNET, said Samsung hoped the transparency would mark a good first step,” write Shara Tibken and Roger Cheng for CNET, whose office was also a stop on the apology tour.

“When companies do this right, on average 18 months is the time period for turning around a reputation,” Thomas Cooke, a professor at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business, tells them. “Samsung is on the way to recovery. I think it can be done.”

The quickest way to get off consumers’ probation list, of course, would be to deliver an A+ effort with the S8.

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