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On the tall tales of espionage

Rajiv Makhni gives his own take on the conspiracy theories surrounding the Samsung Note 7 recall

brunch Updated: Sep 24, 2016 21:33 IST

Conspiracy theorists are an interesting bunch of people. Fuelled by a very vivid imagination and a great level of mistrust in the human species, they can find underhand plotting and planning in the most mundane of happenings. And the absolute masters of this strange obsession are tech conspiracy theorists. I was subjected to one such group very recently.

The theorists

At the IFA, in Berlin – a certain group of journalists were completely convinced that the all-new Samsung Note 7 phone and its all-new spectacular unwanted feature of bursting into flames was not as innocent as it was being made out to be. They were absolutely sure the timing of the flaw as well as the enormity of the problem was brought about by a conglomerate of rival companies. Also, the battery within the phone was deliberately sabotaged. That a very major underhand sabotage plot had been put into place and was working. The theory put out by them was simple and read like a John le Carré espionage book. Here’s how the awesomely imaginative story was told to me.

A fascinating tale

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 rumours had started to spread way before the phone itself was announced. And it was obvious that it was going to be ‘the phone of the year’. It will be beautifully designed, a beast of hardware, with new enhancements in the stylus functions, incredible camera and fantastic battery life. Samsung had also clawed its way back into being super successful after a few years of having very ho-hum devices. The Note 7 was to be the jewel in its very sparkling smartphone crown. Something needed to be done to bring them down, to dethrone the king. For the competition, just derailing the Note 7 wasn’t going to be enough. What was needed was the failure of the Note 7 and a spiralling effect on both the reputation of the company and all its other phones. All that was needed was a large pay-off to someone in the battery division to introduce a massive flaw in the battery itself. A flaw that would make it volatile and explode into flames. Nothing fires the imagination of the public more than a phone that catches fire, nothing puts more fear into a user’s mind than an exploding phone. If hundreds of Note 7 phones simultaneously combusted, so would the reign of Samsung.

A devious plot

And it went exactly to plan. The Note 7 was announced, the whole world loved it, millions of devices sold within days, all the reviews were super positive, the ‘phone of the year’ title was cemented, and then all hell broke loose. News of phones exploding started to emerge from all over. Some claimed the phone burst into flames in a person’s pocket, there were cases of cars that caught fire as the person was charging the phone within, airlines altered their take-off script to “put your phone in airplane mode and if you have a Note 7, please power it off completely”. And then, hundreds of photos of exploded phones went viral! Mission ‘Take Samsung Down’ was complete.

Whodunnit

The story seemed plausible to most people, except for a few small problems. Exactly how do you go about bribing ‘someone’ at the battery factory? Who is that one person who can make this happen? What about checks and balances and people in-charge of quality other than the ‘bribed individual’? Who was this conglomerate of rival companies that plotted such a brilliant sabotage plot? Who headed this and where did they all meet? Who funded it? How much money was needed to pull off something so deliciously wicked? And which mafia group of rival companies would be so terrible that they would be okay with batteries exploding and endangering the lives of people? Somehow my pertinent questions were brushed aside and I was politely but firmly thrown out of the room!

The real issues

So, what is the real story here? How does a company as big and as credible as Samsung make a mistake like this? Most of the answers are speculation at best but here are my thoughts on this.

The constant churn of technology, the fact that almost every phone now must be released at a particular time of the year, the absolutely essential killer feature that fuels millions of sales, the fact that you can’t have a new flagship without a dozen disruptors and the race to make it all happen by a particular time and date, is leading to both technology compromises and problems. The Note 7 is one of them.

Samsung has done things right in the aftermath. The fact that it accepted the problem, has apologised for it, and has taken on a global recall in a professional manner and it is releasing a new Note 7 in record time, should all help in making consumers feel that this is a brand that responds correctly to a crisis. Heck, they could even win some brownie points for being a company that cares and takes responsibility, and come out of all this muck smelling good!

Meanwhile, a few classic rules for all phones still apply. Don’t talk on the phone while you charge it, avoid cheap phone chargers for your home or car, don’t leave your phone out in the sun, avoid using it when it feels hot and don’t keep the phone in the front pocket of your jeans or trousers. Break these rules and your phone just may live up to its reputation and have a real ‘killer’ feature!

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, September 25

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