Galaxy Note 5 and 'inserting it wrong'

Earlier today on MacBreak Weekly, the long-running podcast hosted by Leo Laporte, Leo was joking about the stories involving Samsung Galaxy Note 5 S-Pens getting stuck backwards in their slots when—you guessed it!—his S-Pen got stuck backwards in the slot. You can see it happen in the video below at around the 49:40 mark.

Leo found the story suspicious so decided to see for himself. He thought he'd feel some tightness or other physical feedback and be able to remove it before it got stuck. Unfortunately, that's why it's getting stuck—there's nothing to indicate anything is wrong until it's too late. My colleague, and the editor-in-chief of Android Central, Phil Nickinson wrote about it again today. Teeth marks and all.

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People are saying "you're inserting it wrong" in reference to an infamous email from the late Steve Jobs. In the email Jobs quipped "just avoid holding it that way" in response to iPhone 4 reception issues.

With the iPhone 4, if you bridged the antenna gap on the outside of the phone, it would reduce signal reception by a couple of bars. So, if you were in an area with bad reception, you could lose reception entirely.

"Antennagate", as it became known, required both bad signal and antenna bridging, so going to an area with better signal or moving your finger could alleviate the problem. So could putting on a case.

Apple ended up giving away bumper cases to every iPhone 4 customer to address the issue, and updated the antenna in the Verizon iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4s to prevent it entirely.

The Galaxy Note 5 S-Pen problem and the iPhone 4 antenna problem are similar in that both could be reproduced. They're dissimilar in that touching the antenna gap once didn't stick, break, or otherwise render the antenna permanently unusable. Which, unfortunately, is what appears to be happening with the S-Pen.

Some have also tried to draw a parallel to the largely media-manufactured "bendgate" controversy that followed the launch of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Bendgate required people to start a video recorder and then apply incredible amounts of force in order to bend an iPhone. Earlier versions of the iPhone too, as anyone with a repair business would tell you if you bothered to ask. Or any metal phone, really, including those made by Samsung.

There were so few real-world cases of bent iPhones that Apple didn't have to take any extraordinary actions to deal with them. So, bent phones are similar in that they do permanently affect a phone. They're dissimilar in that it appears to take no excessive or brute force to stick a stylus. If you simply picked a metal phone up off the table by the "wrong" edge and it bent under its own weight, that would better equate to what's happening here.

Apple has, however, just this week issued an iPhone 6 camera replacement program (opens in new tab) for a small percentage of devices suffering from a bad camera component. As unfortunate as it is for everyone involved, problems like that happen and companies respond to them.

The issue with the Galaxy Note 5 isn't the first for Samsung. Last year's Galaxy Note 4 had a screen gap so big it could double as business card holder. It won't be their last either. Nor will the camera replacement be Apple's.

Conversely, some are going after Samsung using Steve Jobs' "if you see a stylus, they blew it!" quip from the days of the original iPhone as if to say Apple knew better and was somehow prescient about pens getting stuck in phones. Nothing of the sort.

Jobs was referring to resistive touch screen technology that really needed a stylus to be functional in most situations. That's what we all used in the dark days before the coming of the iPhone and the capacitive revolution.

Apple Stores have been selling capacitive stylus pens for years and anyone who's ever worked in illustration—hi!—will tell you how great pen input is. The Galaxy Note, if nothing else, is an amazingly portable Wacom-style tablet and it's terrific that it exists.

What's not terrific is that the S-Pen gets stuck, and that it's something that could have been avoided with better design. As implemented, it fails secure by locking down. It doesn't fail safe by letting out.

Imagine, with an Apple Watch band, if you slid it upside down into the groove, it became stuck and couldn't be removed without damaging the parts. That would be a terrible experience.

Instead, if you try and insert an Apple Watch band upside down, the lug slides all the way through without the catch firing, preventing it from getting stuck and also letting you know you're inserting it wrong.

That's what good design does—it protects customers from themselves. Even and especially when they make mistakes. It's called poka-yoke and in the case of the pen, it's something that's been solved since the Newton.

So, yeah, if you're even thinking about blaming customers for this, or telling them to RTFM, please stop. Just like Gorilla Glass is used to minimize the chances of screen scratches from keys in the same pocket, poka-yoke needs to be used to minimize the chances of a pen getting stuck.

Customers may be making a mistake by sticking the pen in the wrong way, but Samsung made one first but not designing the mechanism in a way that minimized or prevented it from happening.

I've already piled on Samsung's lack of design consideration enough for one year, so I'll leave it at that.

Except to say this: Apple is rumored to be readying an Pen for use with the rumored iPad Pro. It sounds like it might be more of an optional accessory than something built into the device. Either way, I hope the S-Pen issue causes Apple's hardware design team to be even more thoughtful and considerate about the error-proofing of their products.

And I wish Samsung, and those affected, the very best of luck in getting this resolved quickly and to everyone's benefit and satisfaction.

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Update: It was (rightly) pointed out that "you're holding it wrong" is the headline used by Engadget when reporting on Steve Jobs' email, not the actual quote. The actual quote was "Just avoid holding it that way". We've updated to correct that. Thanks Kenny!

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • What is wrong with the world? Don't put the pen in backwards. The antennagate thing was a design flaw. You could be using the phone as intended and it wouldn't work. Bendgate? Dont put your phone in your pocket or it might bend. They didn't save us from ourselves on that one. And now they are going to fix that problem that "didn't exist" with the next iphone. This is just misuse and carelessness. We should be able to drop our phones and not break them also. That's just a user mistake also. What a joke....
  • Yep. People want to blame Samsung for their ignorance.
    The pen is SO easy to tell which end goes in first, this is pure idiocy at its best.
    Just like people blame apple for their phone bending when they stick it in their skinny jeans and plop 300 lbs on it and expect it to take that sort of abuse.
    If you can't insert the pen right, get a flip phone, you're too dumb to use anything else.
  • I don't think that I would put the pen in the wrong way but I can see others doing this. Perhaps absentmindedly. It shouldn't Bork the device if you do. Sent from the iMore App
  • Blaming customers for something good design could easily prevent is pretty sad. Plugs have a wide and narrow end to help people know which way they properly go into an outlet. It's simple care and consideration.
  • Rene the instructions even say to not do it. I am sorry, but there is such a thing as personal accountability. Once again you make a non-Apple related article to drive page clicks here from your non-normal users because you are OBSESSED WITH SAMSUNG.
  • The instruction says not to do it? Wow. That makes it just as physically impossible to do as actually designing it well, but with no design effort required! Amazing! And to think Steve Jobs stopped production on the original iPhone just because keys were scratching the screen, and had his team rush to replace it with the then-unknown Gorilla Glass, just to prevent the same thing happening to customers, when all he had to do was put a note on a PDF somewhere telling people not to put keys in their pockets! I guess Apple looks super silly now.
  • They looked super silly after they accused customers of holding iPhone 4 wrong and losing a class action suit because the antenna could experience antennuation when a finger bridged the gap between the two antennas on the frame. Do you always apologize for their mess ups?
  • And keys still scratch Gorilla Glass. So he didn't save us from ourselves from that either Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Gorilla Glass is much harder than the brass used to make most keys. Some keys are made of steel, which is harder than brass, but unless it's hardened steel, it is still way softer than Gorilla Glass. If you have quartz (or other hard mineral) grains in your pocket with your phone, they might scratch it. Otherwise, you might CRACK the glass with the sharp point of a key if you press it into the screen, but casual contact with a key won't scratch the glass.
  • Renee, not putting something in backwards being on the manufacturer? If this were apple you'd be crying all day and night. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Do you ever put your car in reverse instead of drive once in a while? Run a stop sign? People do dumb things when they are in a hurry. Sammy could atleast had designed it to have some sort of resistance which would tell the consumer it is going in the wrong way. Or have a cap at the top of the pen which would not allow this to happen. Either way this is a fail on Sammy's part, and with the way their mobile sales and profits have been going of late they cannot afford yet another misstep.
  • Rene... You're absolutely ridiculous. It's quite comical. Sent from the iMore App
  • The point is that good design could have made this impossible to happen. Flair the end by a millimeter, taper the hole so only the narrow end fits in, etc. I mean, imagine you could fry your USB port if you put a plug in the wrong way. "Hey - everyone knows you put the plug in USB-logo up, you should have paid attention." Well yeah, I guess, but why did they make a plug where a simple mistake causes actual damage? Good design should fail gracefully.
  • That is right, plugs have a narrow end so does the S-Pen. Any moron who puts their Pen in the hole the wrong way shouldn't be using a smartphone. For you to say it is due to bad design I disagree, I find your bad design speal has ran it's course.
  • Good design could keep the phone from breaking when a consumer accidentally drops it also. This is the same as dropping your phone on concrete or in water. You're not supposed to do that. If you do, you could break your phone. Or if you sit on it it could bend. They need to get rid of all these design flaws! Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Renee you're pathetic. Seriously you have issues. Enjoy your phone. Avoid joining a cult in the process. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • It sure does not take much to get the Androoler flock to get all riled up. For the record, Android Central and other Android centric sites were the ones that piled on this story, not Rene or iMore. Get for facts straight.
  • Rene are you crying again? Poor boy.
  • I think the Androolers that put the pen in backwards are the ones that are crying.
  • The point is that it can happen if you're not looking down, or better example a younger child playing with the phone and shoves it in. It shouldn't go in the way it damages the phone like previous Note generations, period. That is a design flaw.
  • Bitchie anyone?
  • Antennagate was not a design flaw. All cell phones had that problem, I proved it with my Nexus One back then and posted it in a YouTube video. Most every cell phone had attenuation issues when held just the right way. What happened with the iPhone 4 was that it was the first cell phone design that actually showed you the antenna, and where the gaps were to separate the various antennas from each other (the frame was the antennas), and therefore provided a visible "target" for where and how to hold it to kill the signal. With other phones, this wasn't visible so it would happen and people didn't know it was happening. How many times would a dropped call from a non iPhone be blamed on the carrier when perhaps it was really the way a user was holding the phone?? We'll never know, but it did happen for sure. When Apple "fixed" this problem with the iPhone 4S, it wasn't a fix of a design flaw, it was an innovation to prevent attenuation, again, something most phones had and then the 4S didn't have anymore because of the idea of on-the-fly switching of which metal sections acted as which antenna. Very clever.
  • j
  • What I'm a reading this for Is it iMORE or iSamsung ? Seriously terrible article. GROW UP!!!
  • Apologies if this offends you but it's an interesting and important issue in consumer electronics and one Apple customers face as well. We can and will cover the industry when it makes sense. Since we don't force anyone to read any of the articles, please also feel free to skip this and enjoy those that make you happier.
  • Stop trying to bend or distort the truth. This has nothing to do with Apple. You just want an excuse to write an article to blast Samsung. You are obsessed.
  • And on everyone of his posts, yours follows trying to bash him with the same thing every time. He isn't the only one obsessed, except what he is doing is what he want to happen, people read the articles then post on them more than anyone else's. You fall for it every time. Sent from the iMore App
  • I don't think he was really bashing Samsung in this article. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Why is everyone so surprised that Rene would write an article about a tech problem. I get that this is an Apple based site but it's still a tech based article. It's not like he's complaining about a lawn mower or something. Samsung is in direct competition with Apple and a lot of ppl enjoy knowing what going on in the tech industry as a whole. Rene can't help it if Samsung is so terrible they give him articles every few weeks.
  • And you just don't want anyone to say anything negative about Samsung, but when Apple's product has a minor glitch, it's flaming pitchforks!
    THAT's how this has everything to do with Apple. Because people need to know that other big companies making popular products also have some problems now and then, it's not just Apple in click-bait articles all the time with #gate this and #gate that.
  • Sure, cause if this was apple that did this you feel the same, right?
  • The only really offensive thing is your title. Is it really that easy to dismiss deaths to create a catchy title?
  • Hi Rene, I'm not offended or anything but this article has nothing to do with Apple. Why are you so obsessed with Samsung atleast once every 2 weeks or month you would writing article about Samsung. And like you said I generally skip these things but some times its just too much.
    Instead of writing about what Samsung does, we can focus something more related to Apple like we didn't have article about finance related apps for long time.
    Article like those made me to come to iMore and to be frank I have lot of Apps and Games suggested by you guys.
    Coming to design part we all know that everybody does mistakes including Apple from iPhone 4 to bend-gate but none of them are deal breaker to be frank I'm using iPhone 6 and I use little tight jeans but I'm not afraid that it will bend. We should not just bash companies for mistakes that may happen I mean people work insanely hard to make a product from design to final product there are 1000 things that could go wrong but one or 2 may not get caught during testing or some times its a design flaw itself.
    Pls keep iMore more constructive and I would request you to stop bashing companies. And it's just a suggestion!!!
  • And bending ?
    And antenna ?
    And keyboards scratching macbook displays ?
    Scratched watches because you have band too loose.
    Come on.
    I really am thinking of selling all my mac gear. This is not community. This has nothing to do with apple. This is schoolyard bullying. This is being trying to be smarter than you really are. Using big worlds like industrial design in context that is bit blurry.
    How about making a shift for imore from being snarky and sometimes to entertaining to more useful.
    We should be aiming for higher values. This is something really low.
    imore should be about empowering people by using their software and hardware better ways. It should aim for positive ends by giving people advice.
    This is aiming for feeling better because you own something and are rooting for one company.
  • If you read the article, you'll see it has nothing to do with feeling good at the expense of others (if only the Germans had a word for that!) and all about comparing and contrasting design issues and how that affect modern consumers. That's incredibly empowering. Not everyone appreciates the difference great design makes, or how important or valuable it can be. Better we learn it the easy way than the hard way.
  • Poor tech design is always news. Readers here should vacate their Apple echo chamber and see the real world. iMore is doing its job.
  • Nailed it.
  • Yep it's a design flaw and Samsung should do something about it but this is a poor article. Apple are guilty of this (blaming the customer) your holding your phone wrong..
    Anyway I am not defending Samsung, this is a problem but anything from you Rene to get a shot in on Samsung because you hate them so much.
  • Correction, because he "fear" them so much
  • My supposed "hatred" of Samsung is causing pens to get stuck in phones? And to think, all those times I tried exercising Sith powers as a child! (Spoiler: Everything in this article is accurate with or without any involvement from me :) )
  • Your hatred of Samsung causes you to write rants about Samsung