Saturday, September 23, 2023

Samsung’s overheating ring recall is a software update — and a dongle

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Shreya Christina
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With companies announcing one smart device after another, some people (myself included) have wondered why on earth you would want to connect something like a washing machine or fridge to the internet. However, Samsung has come up with a very compelling, albeit niche, use case: the company announced in December that it is issuing a wireless software patch as part of its recall for some top-load washing machines that “may short circuit and overheat, posing a fire hazard”.

It will even send some customers a dongle in case their washing machines can’t connect to Wi-Fi.

Welcome to the “first-ever over-the-air software recall solution in the home appliance industry.”

According to Samsung, your washing machine should download the update automatically through the SmartThings app if you’ve already set it up and connected it to Wi-Fi. However, it advises consumers to check which software version their machines are running and to “immediately download this software update” before using the machines again if it is not already installed. People who have not connected their Wi-Fi enabled machines can do so by according to the company’s instructions here.

Samsung says the problem is that the control panel of about 14 models sold in the US between June 2021 and December 2022 could potentially overheat, causing it to smoke, melt or even catch fire. About 663,500 units were affected, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the regulator that handles recalls. The CPSC also notes “51 reports of smoking, melting, overheating or fire involving the washing machines; 10 of them resulted in property damage.” Three people were also injured due to smoke inhalation.

Washing machine recalls are not exactly unusual – Whirlpool and GE have recalled both devices due to fire issues, and Samsung famously settled a class action lawsuit about some machines that would vibrate excessively and possibly break apart in the process, leading to what described the CPSC as “impact injuries”. But this method of recalling them is not common, at least not for devices (Tesla famously fixes many recalls through software updates). Samsung calls this the “first-ever over-the-air software recall solution in the home appliance industry”.

For those stuck dealing with a recall, it may be less of a hassle to do it through a software update than scheduling a home repair or moving a heavy, unwieldy machine out of the house.

I say “maybe” because like many other IoT devices, there are a few caveats people may run into when trying to connect their washing machine to the internet for the first time. Samsung says you can’t connect to a network if it has anything other than letters and numbers in its name and it must be a 2.4Ghz network – many routers use the same SSID for both 2.4Ghz networks these days. and 5Ghz networks, and while devices should theoretically be able to navigate that situation, it doesn’t always work perfectly. (I personally have separate 2.4 and 5Ghz networks for that reason, though not everyone will be able to figure out how to set that up.)

While these may be relatively minor hurdles for those with a technical background, they can certainly be difficult for others if their Wi-Fi setup is a bit unusual. Then there are the machines that don’t have built-in Wi-Fi. If you have one, you can contact Samsung to get a dongle to plug into a dedicated port on your machine. According to an instructional video from Samsungthe dongle automatically updates the software of your washing machine after you connect it.

Of course, it’s not great that this problem came up in the first place, but I’ll give kudos to Samsung for coming up with what appears to be a reasonable solution here, even with the potential Wi-Fi pitfalls. Washing machines are important appliances in many households and it wouldn’t be fun to be without them for a week or two. And while fixing a problem via a software update won’t be possible in every scenario – and Samsung is strangely vague about whether the problem is primarily due to a software glitch – in this case it should mean that people can safely get their machines back to work within an hour or two.

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