Five months after releasing the doomed Galaxy Note 7 to much fanfare, Samsung revealed what caused its flagship device to go boom not once, but twice. This was Samsung fulfilling its promise to explain exactly what went wrong with the phone. The level of transparency was unusual for a company accustomed to keeping its processes close to the vest, but it was also an important step in making good on another commitment to rebuild buyers' trust.
During the hourlong press event held in Seoul, South Korea and streamed online, Samsung dove deep into detailed battery technology and slides full of findings from three independent agencies (see below) that Samsung partnered with to investigate everything from battery chemistry and manufacturing procedures to the way Samsung transports phones from factories to warehouses.
It was a lot to take in, but here's all you really need to know.
1. Double-dose of fatal battery flaws
Two batteries flamed out for two different reasons. The initial Galaxy Note 7 battery suffered from a design flaw that eventually led to positive and negative electrodes of the battery touching, short circuiting and causing the whole thing to combust.
After initiating a recall of the phone's initial production run, Samsung turned to a second supplier for new replacement batteries. But quality control couldn't keep pace with the huge ramp-up in orders, and a second manufacturing flaw cropped up: a welding error that left a large enough nutter of material to bore a hole in the separator keeping those volatile chemicals apart.
Sometimes, investigators found, the separator wasn't even there. Thus the disastrous second recall, at which time Samsung pulled the product from markets worldwide for good.
While Samsung won't name its battery suppliers, people familiar with the issue said that Samsung SDI made the first round of batteries (this is separate from Samsung Mobile, which made the phone) and Amperex Technology manufactured the replacement batteries.
Read more about it here: Samsung Galaxy Note 7 FAQ: What happened with the batteries
2. Samsung takes responsibility, but throws battery suppliers under the bus
Although Samsung assured viewers during the press conference that it takes full responsibility for selling dangerously defective phones, one message was clear: Battery manufacturers are really the ones to blame.
The UL, Exponent, and TUV Rheinland agencies that Samsung commissioned to ferret out the fires' cause agreed that the battery -- not Samsung's phone design -- caused the sale-stopping combustion.
True as that may be, Samsung didn't address why its own processes and quality-control program failed to catch the problem. Ultimately, it's Samsung's name on the roughly 3 million Note 7 phones that shipped worldwide.
3. Samsung phones get a new eight-point battery checklist
Battery testing procedures are notoriously under lock and key. (I've been in two companies' factories and haven't been allowed to report on either one.) But now Samsung is sharing its eight-point checklist, which it will apply to every phone going forward, including the new Galaxy S8 and future Galaxy Note 8.
The checklist that Samsung will conduct includes new protocols and enhancements to original tests. Instead of speccing out just the size and voltage requirements, Samsung is exerting more control over aspects like the types of materials used. Moreover, Samsung wants other devicemakers and agencies to use it, too.
4. The Galaxy S8 launch will come later than usual
The Galaxy S8 phone won't launch at the end of February; it's been pushed back while Samsung HQ dealt with the Note 7 recall disaster and investigation. Samsung may never have publicly promised to unveil the S8 at the Mobile World Congress show, but it didn't have to. That's where it introduced every Galaxy 'S' phone except one -- the Galaxy S4, which launched a few weeks after in New York. We expect the same approach here.
And by the way, Samsung mentioned that the S8 would leave more room for the battery, even though internal space didn't cause the Note 7's woes.
5. The Note 8 is still on
We already knew that Samsung was committed to the Note series, but the company's mobile chief, D.J. Koh, confirmed it's sticking with the Note 8 in an interview with CNET.
"I will bring back a better, safer and very innovative Note 8," Koh said. Samsung typically launches the Note in late August or early September.
The Note family, with its large screen and digital stylus, is extremely important to Samsung. It has a dedicated following in a category that Samsung pioneered. And before Note 7 units began igniting, the model was on course to be a grand slam. That's momentum that Samsung will want to recapture, stat.
One more question: What about replaceable batteries?
We've speculated it and you have, too: couldn't Samsung have avoided some of its pain by giving the Note 7 a replaceable battery? Then the company could have addressed the issue without having to rip 3 million phones out of hands and warehouses.
We've asked, but Samsung hasn't answered. But we don't see that happening anyway. These days, a nonremovable (embedded) battery has become the industry standard. It's now noteworthy to see a phone with a battery that pops out, rather than the other way around.
This design helps make phones slimmer and smaller. It leaves more internal room for larger batteries, too. So the same phone will theoretically last longer between charges with an embedded battery than it would with a removable one.