Is there any device more dedicated to relieving us of friction than the smartphone? It’s not just the ability to call, text or email from virtually anywhere that has made previously painful circumstances into frictionless ones. Over the span of a few short years, a myriad of additional phone apps have taken the friction out of everything from navigation to photography, answering our desire for a frictionless future one keystroke at a time.
It’s a desire that’s addressed by more than mere software—the evolution of smartphone design itself reflects a move to the frictionless. Each year, phones become thinner and more streamlined, allowing them to slide with less friction in and out of pockets and handbags.
The recent Samsung Galaxy debacle points to the pressure that such demands can put on manufacturers and their suppliers. It now appears the cause of the exploding phones was a redesign of the lithium-ion battery intended to make the batteries thinner and capable of fitting into phone cases with rounded (less frictional) edges. That two separate suppliers were responsible for the flawed batteries suggests that blame is not as easy to assign as one might think.
An ironic twist—one familiar enough to suppliers—is that the demand for less friction in the product leads to more friction for those manufacturing it. Although it’s rare when that same friction in the supply chain is revealed to the public, about as rare as an exploding phone perhaps. It’s a reminder that in today’s connected world, the destructive effects of friction in the supply chain can be felt outside of it, too.