Manufacturers should have the utmost concern for user safety

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| December 12, 2013

Every once in a while in the news you're bound to come across some horror story about a smartphone involved in some very unfortunate events. Whether it's an iPhone 4 exploding on an airplane mid-flight or a Galaxy S4 bursting mysteriously in some unsuspecting victim's coat pocket, these isolated incidents never cease to strike just a tiny bit of fear into our hearts when we read them. Mostly because it could happen to anybody. As much as we depend on and enjoy our smartphones, sometimes we forget that there is a lot more than meets the eye going on inside of them to make them work. The inner workings of a smartphone can be quite dangerous if not all goes according to plan.

When we hear about these events in the news, the first thing we do is rationalize. Everything happens for a reason, and the more likely scenario that occurrs when these things happen was what we in the business comically refer to as "user error"; otherwise, wouldn't hundreds of other models be popping up with the same issue all over the place? But just as easy as it is to put the blame on the victim, we have to remember that even manufacturing facilities have their screw-ups. Just because something is made by machine doesn't mean it can't have its faults. After all, who were the machines built by? 

Whatever the case, these situations are bound to happen every once in a while with technology. After all, they're not perfect devices. Just recently, a story of a man whose Samsung Galaxy S4 allegedly caught on fire has blown up to epic proportions. This wouldn't be the first time we've heard of the Galaxy S 4 having issues dealing with heat - even I had issues with my Galaxy S 4 feeling nearly too hot to the touch when I first got the device. But the device catching on fire wasn't what made the situation blow up; instead, the more shocking part of the whole ordeal was that once the issue was brought up to Samsung, their response was less than admirable to say the least. The response? In a nutshell:

"Hey guy, listen. We'll give you another device, which may or may not be the same device, but you have to keep your mouth shut about this and remove that YouTube video you posted. Also, if this happens again with the next phone, we're not doing this again."

So instead of complying with Samsung's request, the victim (known as GhostlyRich on YouTube) instead decides to ignore it and bring it to the attention of everybody else via YouTube... again. The phone wasn't rooted, the battery was stock, the wall charger and the cord was stock. The victim claims that he charged his phone overnight, just as he normally would, and woke up to a burning smell. The smell (and smoke) were coming from the charging port of his Galaxy S4. He created the initial video showing the damage to his device, which wasn't all too far from burning through to the actual battery. This was mostly as a means of getting through to Samsung since they requested proof of damage, but letting other people know what happened to him as well. On the one hand I thought to myself, why didn't he just send the video to Samsung privately? Then the realist in me realized that you know, if this guy didn't post this video himself nobody would ever see it. This is dangerous stuff to be tampering with. The lithium ion batteries that our phones use today react to elevated temperatures, and not in a good way. You want to keep these things in an environment with a stable temperature, otherwise they risk bursting, and the aftermath? Let's just say battery juice isn't something you'd want to moisturize your skin with. 

Like I said, these things happen. You have to realize that when you buy a smartphone, you're buying something that is potentially very dangerous given the right (or wrong) situation. But whether it was manufacturer or user faulted, the right thing for a company to do is to look into the situation, apologize if they're at fault or have any risk of being at fault, and try to rectify it. Otherwise you find yourself in a situation like this, where "Shut up and we'll give you a phone," doesn't necessarily work as intended. The Internet can be brutal, but I would like to think that people would be happier if Samsung had just said they would look into the situation and would replace the device without any stipulations. You either take care of the customer, or somebody else will. Somebody like Nokia, who already offered to give the victim a Lumia free of charge. No doubt as a means of a good PR move, but hey, at least they're trying to gain a consumer base whereas it would seem that Samsung has more than they know what to do with if they're willing to treat consumers like that. 

Hopefully this was a lesson learned for Samsung, as well as other manufacturers. These situations can be dangerous, and if there's a need to have a recall on a certain batch of phones then I feel like it's worth looking in to, admitting fault and fixing (if need be - like I said, nobody can confirm the true reason behind the burning charging port) rather than putting people at risk. I shouldn't have to babysit my phone 24/7 to make sure it doesn't catch on fire. 

Readers, what are your thoughts on the situation? Do you think that Samsung was in the right? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Products mentioned