Smart Phones on Fire- Literally – But What Would Gilbert Newton Lewis have Done? Roll out the iPhone8?


Picture credit: Ariel Gonzalez / YouTube

Update: Oct. 9, 2016 – Amazing that a big tech company would risk the franchise over a likely fixable problem…

Samsung halts production of its Galaxy Note 7 as U.S. carriers stop selling faulty smartphones after multiple reports they catch fire

  • Samsung Electronics has suspended production of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones following reports of fires in the replacement devices
  • AT&T and T-Mobile have said they will stop offering replacement Note 7s
  • The carriers are concerned that the new versions are no safer than the originals
  • Last month, a Chinese customer said his replacement phone burst into flames while charging
  • An American user reported his replacement phone catching fire, even though it wasn’t plugged in
  • Last week smoke started billowing from a replacement phone aboard a Southwest plane before it departed, prompting the flight’s cancellation
Update: Oct 7, 2016-    Replacement Galaxy Note 7 could face its own recall (CNET)  A second recall would be an unusual move but could happen if this week’s incident aboard a Southwest Airlines flight involved a “safe” Galaxy Note 7. (Citation:

Breaking news that Apple iPhone 7s are catching on fire has triggered some pundits to scoff that the competition between the leading two cell phone manufacturers, Apple and Samsung, on feature set has gotten out of control with “inflammability” now a shared characteristic. Last year, a number of Samsung Galaxy 7 phones and tablets caught fire, prompting the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to issue a broad recall and to put limits on recharging. Oddly, Samsung “offered to replace” the phones but not issue a recall of all 2.5M phones being shipped as they reportedly had a concern (according to TrendBlog) about the phone resale market value. While Samsung lost $20B in market value after the September 9, 2016 recall costong it over $1B, Apple has also suffered a material decline in market capitalization too. Apple-tracker, the Boy Genius Report, quipped:

The world’s leading smartphone makers just can’t stop copying each other. While the company has certainly improved its image over the past few years, Samsung is likely most famous for being an Apple copycat. After all, the company was sued repeatedly by Apple for stealing its technology and designs. And as we all learned, things got so crazy at one point that Samsung even created a 132-page internal document to help its engineers copy the iPhone pixel by pixel. Of course, Apple is hardly innocent in all this. The iPhone maker has aped plenty of features from Android in recent years, and it probably never would have made iPhones with large displays if Samsung hadn’t paved the way. But now, things have gone way too far…

Chemical engineers really need to help mobility device manufacturers improve their cell phone designs so that these cells maintain their high energy density but remain stable. And icConstrucx explains in detail  that the battery cycling  tradeoffs are inevitable: “Mixing cathode and anode material allows manufacturers to strengthen intrinsic qualities; however, enhancing one attribute may compromise another. Battery makers can, for example, optimize the specific energy (capacity) to achieve extended runtime, increase the specific power for improved current loading, extend service life for better longevity, and enhance safety to endure environmental stresses.”Without internal cooling systems due to their small form factor, the phones are at risk of chemical breakdown above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Beyond environmental factors, there remains concerns about “battery management systems” which can fail, leading a fully charged battery to continue to heat until combustion. This “snowball effect” results from an overcharge state during which a chemical reaction causes the battery to fail. In addition to storing your phone in a cool place, battery life can be extended by disabling unused apps. shifting to low-power mode, and a number of other tricks highlighted by They argued the Samsung BMS was materially different from the Apple BMS:

The primary issue is Samsung’s aggressive and quick charging forces for the Note 7’s huge capacity battery. The charging was relying upon a high voltage charging to deliver greater extended energy. A regular USB 2 charger (like the ones used in iPhone and iPad) run at 5 Volts and take up to 5-10 watts. On the contrary, the Galaxy Note 7 comes with a USB Type C adapter, which works at up to 12 volts and can take up to 25.2 watts.

But, waaay back in 1912 when Gilbert Newton Lewis effectively invented the lithium ion battery after he grasped chemical bonding a decade earlier such that two atoms can share the same ions with the lithium ion flowing to the negative electron when charging and vice versa. Since modern lithium ion batteries have multiple layers separated by an electrolyte layer which can become unstable, a heat spread can cause sparking and a catastrophic failure of the battery. The changes that allow heat to spread through a Li-ion cell were recently revealed by Donal Finegan and colleagues in Paul Shearing’s lab at University College London (UCL). Thermal runaway remains a concern to experts at the Battery University.


Picture Credit: CHF Collections: Gilbert Newton Lewis’s memorandum of 1902 showing his speculations about the role of electrons in atomic structure. From Valence and the Structure of Atoms and Molecules (1923), p. 29.

While the iPhone7 eliminated plug-in headphones in a shift to Bluetooth, the iPhone8 is going to be a wirelessly charged device. A patent recently released by the US Patent and Trademark Office, filed in late 2015, describes a unit that will wirelessly charge a mobile device through inductive power transmission (IPT) allowing the next iPhone to charge its battery unencumbered by cables. An IEEE xPlore paper in 2012 from managers of the Croatian Department of Communications had already suggested the industry shift to wireless charging. [The Fraunhofer Institute in Erlangen, Germany is aggressively applying IPT to electric vehicles.] As the CEO of MIT-inspired WiTricity, Eric Giler has a plan to beam electric power through the air (see his TED Talk here) to wirelessly power your laptop or recharge your car (Full bio).

Business Insider just reported that Apple is developing the iPhone8 hardware in its Herzliya, Israel facility, implementing a “radical redesign” and posssibly skipping the iPhone 7s to truncate the two year development cycle for a fall 2017 release. The office was set up after Apple acquired two startups: the flash memory designer Anobit in 2012 and the 3D sensor developer PrimeSense in 2013. Apple has since acquired the Israeli camera firm LinX. Some reports suggest that the iPhone8 will have an edge-to-edge display (according to MacRumours), suggesting that it removes the need for the top and bottom bezels where features like the fingerprint sensor and the front-facing camera are located.  After an unnamed Apple employee shared details about the iPhone 8 with a reporter, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has shared a note with clients outlining his own expectations for the 2017 devices, which he believes will feature a glass casing and metal frame for the entry-level model and a stainless steel frame and 2D glass for the high-end model.

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