Consumers would rather forget two note-able events of 2016: the inflammable Galaxy Note 7 phone and the India's demonetized currency notes. Will things look up in 2017?
January 3 2016: As 2017 dawns, lay Indians can be forgiven for feeling less than upbeat about two note-worthy happening in the year gone by: the sad Samsung saga about the exploding Galaxy Note 7 mobile handset and in a totally different league, the continuing angst,first set off when the Indian government sucked away over 80 percent of currency notes in circulation.The new year has brought little cheer on either front. The Prime Minister New Year's Eve address to the nation offered no hope that the agonies undergone by millions of patient citizen would end swiftly and soon. ATMs are still mostly dry or if they do dispense cash, it is mostly in Rs 2000 notes that are difficult to trade. The goal post set at 50 days is being effectively set back. Even the optimistic among professional watchers say it will be the end of the financial year before things creep back to normal, before we can access our lawfully earned money as and when we need to. This is one promise that was coolly observed in the breach.
And what about that other Note in the news in 2016? While Samsung took responsibility for the explosion-prone Galaxy Note 7 and globally withdrew the device, there are some undercurrents that are troubling -- and not just for Samsung customers.
There was intermittent news of bursting phones and this peaked at year end. On Christmas Eve, reported the Manchester Evening News, a mobile phone burst into flames sending sparks flying like ‘fireworks’ just centimetres away, from a baby, according to its mother Victoria Seed. She said she was shocked when she heard the bang and saw sparks flying from the Samsung Galaxy S6 that she had left was charging at the side of a bed. Fortunately mother and baby were safe.
And on December 31, according to The Times of India reporting from Villupuram, Tamil Nadu, a 15-year-old boy, died after his mobile phone exploded into flames. R. Abilesh, a class 10 student of Kendriya Vidyalaya, Jallahalli, Bengaluru, was visiting relatives with his parents, Around 2 pm on December 25, Abilesh went to the terrace and was talking on his cellphone when the gadget seemingly caught fire. The fire engulfed his upper body inflicting severe burn injuries from which he succumbed at JIPMER hospital, Puducherry. It was not clear what make of phone was involved. High tension electric power lines pass over the terrace of the house. The cellphone might have burst into flames due to interference of electromagnetic radiations of the device with that of the high tension power lines, said the Police.
There are multiple theories about why the Galaxy Note 7 was prone to combustion: Only Samsung knows and there is some hope that when the Consumer Electronics Show opens in Las Vegas (USA) later this week, the company will provide its findings before launching its new phones.
Concentrating all attention on Samsung ignores that the Lithium Ion chemical technology used in batteries for phones, tablets and other portable devices has always been known to be unstable The cell uses a compound of lithium as the positive electrode or anode, carbon or graphite as the negative pole or cathode with a salt of lithium as the semi-fluid, to drive the electric current. Scientists have known about the tendency of lithium ion cells to spontaneously catch fire ever since Sony designed the first commercial units in 1991. Soon after the first Galaxy Note 7 episode in October, I had shared the chilling observation long before, in a technology site which said "There is a small chance ( two or three in a million, 0.0002% to 0.0003% ) that the cell will burst into flames".
The harsh fact is, the battery industry -- and for that matter the phone industry -- continues to use this dangerous technology because they don't have any other that packs so much energy in so small a volume. They believe they can get away with the statistical chance of any single phone among millions, catching fire.
But it is no longer an issue of one company suffering loss of face and financial loss by having to recall and replace, entire model worldwide. Now people are dying.
So what can we do about it?
Till the phone industry levels with us and highlights the precise dangers of Lithium Ion batteries -- and I for one don't think it will be very forthcoming -- we the people need to take our own precautions.
From what little we know or can hazard, batteries explode when they are squeezed too tightly into the device leaving no room for the small expansion that takes place when the battery is charged again and again. You will have experienced this: After a few years of use when the battery is near the end of its life, it has bulged visibly.
In the competitive urge to make phones, slimmer, lighter even as the battery is powerful enough in milliAmperehours to last all day (two irreconcilable requirements!) makers squeeze as much battery volume as the casing will take. To add to the problem, some of the many popular makes including Samsung and iPhone make it impossible to open the casing and remove the battery in its lifetime. Any model where one can remove the battery is by design less tight-fitted, because we are able to insert our finger nail to slid it out.
I am convinced, the problem with Lithium Ion batteries is not with Samsung phones alone. I am also resigned to being sold phones with Li-Ion batteries for the foreseeable future. I expect that commercial interests will ensure that the industry will not share all its knowledge about the dangers of such batteries with consumers. We have to look after ourselves in the best way we can, short of stopping to use mobile phones. So here is my suggestion:
Don't be crazy over owning the slimmest, lightest phone. Be prepared to carry a heavier phone with the same day-long battery power. This means the battery is larger and hopefully has not been squeezed into a too-small body. If you can chose, go for a model where the battery can be accessed and removed by you. Replace it after a few years with the manufacturer's original battery -- not some cheap equivalent. If you put the phone in a flip case, ensure it has holes or openings to allow ventilation. If your phone is charging and you get a call, remove the charger before using the phone. Don't overcharge or leave the phone charging overnight. It is inconvenient I know, but disconnect the charger when the phone shows it is fully charged. If the phone feels unusually hot to the touch, switch it off till it cools.
By doing all this, is there any guarantee that your phone will still not explode. Who knows, but at least we have reduced the odds in our favour. Here's to safe phone usage in 2017!