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Samsung expected to blame irregular battery size for phone fires

Samsung Electronics said Friday it will announce on Monday the reason why its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones overheated and caught fire. (Ahn Young-joon / AP)
Samsung Electronics said Friday it will announce on Monday the reason why its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones overheated and caught fire. (Ahn Young-joon / AP)
By Hayley Tsukayama The Washington Post

Samsung announced Friday that it’s finally going to reveal what caused its Galaxy Note 7 phones to catch fire and explode. The company stopped making its flagship phone in October, after two messy rounds of recalls that asked customers to turn in their smartphones – and then the “safe” phones issued to replace them.

Samsung will give its account of what happened in a news conference Monday in Seoul, which will be Sunday night in the United States.

While the company has not given any details of what it will say, it is expected to reveal that the initial fires were caused by the irregular size of the battery, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing several unnamed individuals. A second round of smartphone fires linked to the Galaxy Note 7’s replacement phones – which had batteries made by a different company – were apparently due to a “manufacturing issue” that took place because the phones were made too quickly, the Journal article said. The inquiry was conducted by Samsung and outside investigators hired by the firm.

Samsung declined to comment on the Journal article.

This findings would seem to place the blame squarely on faulty lithium-ion batteries, rather than on the phone’s design. In the weeks following the initial reports of Samsung’s phone fires, lawmakers and regulators questioned the safety of batteries – which power an increasing number of devices in our homes to our cars – and whether companies, including Samsung, do enough to protect consumers from faulty batteries. Sen. Richard Blumenthal , D-Conn., sent a letter to Samsung in the fall asking for more information on its investigation and plans to avoid future incidents.

At least 96 fires have been reported in the United States, including a car fire in Florida that brought widespread attention to the problem. The phones are considered so hazardous that they have been banned by the Federal Aviation Administration. Crews were told to take the extraordinary step of announcing that ban at the start of every flight – a requirement lifted only last week.

In total, Samsung recalled approximately 2.5 million phones. While the company reported that more than 95 percent of smartphone owners had returned the faulty devices, there are still some holdouts, who have dodged attempts by Samsung and carriers to disable the recalled models. Verizon Wireless will redirect all calls made from Samsung Galaxy Note 7s – except those to emergency services – to its customer service centers, Fortune reported this week.

Samsung ultimately offered Galaxy Note 7 users a refund for their phones, or the option to choose a different model.

The phone debacle led Samsung to report its smallest quarterly profit in history in its October earnings report. But next week, the company is expected to reveal a strong quarter, buoyed by sales of other electronics components, including its high-tech chips and displays for phones.

Consumers did seem more wary of Samsung smartphones in the holiday season, allowing the company’s archrival Apple to rake in 91 percent of global profits from smartphone sales, according to analysis firm Strategy Analytics.

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