The Download, Jan 23, 2017: Samsung Battery Fail, China’s Global Gadget Grab, and Fighting Bad Science
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Three Things You Need to Know Today
Samsung Describes Its Phone's Fiery End
Samsung has officially announced that, yes, it was battery problems that caused its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone to burst into flames. Last year, the smartphone model was recalled because many of them caught fire. Replacement devices were also found to overheat and ignite. Samsung halted production of the phone entirely and recalled every device it had sold. The company’s official investigation, which saw 700 staff inspect 200,000 phones and 30,000 batteries, revealed a series of issues. Batteries in the first wave of phones were irregular in size, and, when large ones were pinched in one corner, they could overheat. Replacements solved that problem, but were hastily built and suffered from defective welding. But all of the batteries were designed to use a troublingly thin separator between the two electrodes, which could be easily damaged, leading to short circuit and ignition. With a tarnished reputation and billions of dollars in losses from the debacle, it's a mistake Samsung is unlikely to make again in a hurry.
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China’s Global Gadget Grab
China’s consumer tech industry is increasingly trying to extend its manufacturing and sales outside of its home market. Traditionally, many Chinese device manufacturers cater for domestic consumers, but, as demand begins to level off, things are changing. Wired describes how the prolific smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi, famed for building good hardware at low prices, is responding to local competition like Oppo and Vivo by looking overseas—first in India, then the rest of the world. It will be a challenge, though, especially in the U.S.: it needs to win over not just minds, which may judge on cost and quality, but hearts, too, that will buy on branding. (It also today lost its global guru, Hugo Barra.) Elsewhere, it's come to light that Foxconn is reportedly mulling the idea of investing as much as $7 billion in a new U.S. display plant. Some companies will be fearing what a Chinese hardware surge in the West could mean—not least Apple, whose latest legal assault on Qualcomm has been read by some as a sign of fears over an evaporating smartphone market.
Trump’s First Science Moves
As Donald Trump prepares for his first Monday as president, he’s already taken aim at the outgoing administration's energy and climate policies. Shortly after the 45th president of the United States was inaugurated, the White House website became home to a new “America First Energy Policy Plan,” with no mention of sustainable energy and a promised goal of “eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.” The URL to the climate change page also died. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that universities have been running hackathons to save environmental information amid fears that the new administration will scrub data that undercuts its views. Concern within the scientific community was highlighted over the weekend as researchers joined the Women's March in Washington, D.C. and nerds quickly leapt to correct White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s “alternative facts.” Rumors continue to swirl about who Trump will choose to acts as his science advisor. Regardless of how that decision plays out, science and technology policy looks set for a bumpy ride.
Six Fascinating Things
1. This app can recommend you content while keeping your data private, by storing all of your preferences locally. But is the trade-off in performance worth it?
2. Parents usually worry about the way children use tablets, TVs, and computers. But technology could, surprisingly, make conversations with kids more effective.
3. In the near future, robots will work and learn with us, perhaps even caring for people and saving lives. But before they can do those things, they need our trust.
4. Some Uber drivers work so far from home to earn bigger fares that they have to resort to sleeping in parking lots between shifts.
5. Voice-controlled home assistants are having a moment, but here’s a quirk: people don’t appear to be using third-party apps built to run on assistant software.
6. What does a famed energy trader, with a legitimate fortune from Enron and his own hedge fund, do when he retires at 38? He starts a war on bad science.
Quote of the Day
Hi everybody! Back to the original handle. Is this thing still on? Michelle and I are off on a quick vacation, then we’ll get back to work.”
— Barack Obama rejoins Twitter as a regular citizen. Meanwhile, the social network has apologized for its switchover of Twitter accounts between presidents. Many people complained when the social network automatically made them follow both the current president (@POTUS) and the archived account of Obama (@POTUS44).