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Now We Know Why All Those Galaxy Note 7s Exploded

It proves that safety is one of the most important elements of good design.

If you’ve flown at all in recent months, you’ve likely heard the warnings–don’t bring a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 on board, since it might spontaneously combust.

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Now the company has released results of an official investigation into the smartphone, along with a TLDR infographic that shows the device’s fatal flaws.

The problem lies with both the design and the manufacturing of the Galaxy Note 7’s battery. In the race to make phones thinner (and compete with Apple’s pathologically skinny phones), Samsung redesigned the phone’s lithium-ion battery to be slimmer and to fit a device with rounded edges. While attempting to cram the necessary components into a thinner battery, the company was also on a tight timeline–to get to market before its main competitor Apple released the iPhone 7 in September 2016.

The problematic batteries were manufactured in two separate facilities. The initial set of batteries were manufactured at Samsung’s SDI affiliate and were included in the first round of Galaxy Note 7s. The infographic indicates that deformed negative electrodes in the upper-right corner of the battery caused a short circuit, which in turn caused the explosions. Another manufacturer was responsible for the second set of batteries, which were included in the replacement phones after the first recall. The infographic shows flaws in these batteries’ welding and in the insulation layer between the anode and the cathode. When the positive and negatively charged parts of the battery touched, the battery heated up and exploded.

If you aren’t an electrical engineer or intimate with the innards of smartphones, it can be hard to understand what caused the phones to blow up–in fact, it took Samsung several months to find the reasons for both flaws. However, the infographic clearly illustrates the problem for a nontechnical audience. It’s not going to win any beauty contests, but it’s a good example of clear information design (which can be hard to find).

Samsung’s sloppiness was a nightmare for consumers, who had to deal with phones that would spontaneously explode. By September 2016, Samsung issued a recall for the phone, followed days later by U.S. regulators. After replacement phones, equipped with the second set of flawed batteries, continued to burst into flame, Samsung recalled the Galaxy Note 7 globally. Estimates put the company’s losses in the billions. The lesson: Yes, you can be too thin.

About the author

Katharine Schwab is a contributing writer at Co.Design based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture. Follow her on Twitter @kschwabable.

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