Samsung is getting serious about prying the Galaxy Note 7 back from customers. The company has issued a recall, worked with carriers, and made several announcements concerning the device. Now, it’s going to try a new trick — limiting the battery capacity to 60% charge.
For now, the over-the-air update will be confined to South Korea, where Samsung took out a front page ad in the Seoul Shinmun, a South Korean newspaper. The ad notes that the devices will be limited to just 60% charge, specifically to drive users towards swapping out their hardware. It is a measure to put consumer safety first, but “we apologize for causing inconvenience,” according to the AP.
Samsung is reportedly in talks with mobile carriers worldwide to discuss pushing similar updates to other devices. The issue underscores one of the problems with smartphones in general. With Apple or Microsoft, the company responsible for the operating system also has the ability to push updates for it. Both OS developers have taken steps in recent years to ensure all users are protected by security updates and bug fixes whether they want to be or not. (Microsoft’s policies with Windows 10 have been controversial for pushing non-security updates and a general lack of communication around patches — security updates, in and of themselves, aren’t controversial). The Android ecosystem is much more fragmented and no single company claims responsibility for pushing updates to consumers.
It’s not clear if Samsung is making this change simply to reduce the risk of overheating or because it’ll drive consumers into shops. Likely it’s a mixture of both. While the company initially downplayed the risk and toldThe Wall Street Journal that only a handful of devices had been affected, we can’t remember the last time any company went to such lengths to recall devices. Sony’s battery recall from a few years back when lithium-ion battery tech was newer and less proven was significant. But Samsung has pulled out all the stops to drive consumers into stores to replace their hardware.
Either this problem is larger than the company initially thought, or it’s decided to be extremely proactive with its outreach. If the former, the company ought to say something concrete about the issue — treating this as a face-saving measure isn’t going to work if high-profile failures keep happening. If the latter, then good for Samsung. Hitting battery life is fairly likely to drive people back to stores, and hopefully the company can roll the fix out to more than just South Korea.