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FOIA Documents Detail iPods Overheating, Catching Fire 314

Posted by kdawson
from the is-it-hot-in-here dept.
suraj.sun passes along a report from a Seattle TV station that has been investigating reports of Apple iPods overheating and bursting into flames. "An exclusive KIRO 7 Investigation reveals an alarming number of Apple brand iPod MP3 players have suddenly burst into flames and smoke, injuring people and damaging property. It's an investigation that Apple has apparently been trying to keep out of the public eye. It took more than 7 months for KIRO 7 Consumer Investigator Amy Clancy to get her hands on documents concerning Apple's iPods from the Consumer Product Safety Commission because Apple's lawyers filed exemption after exemption. In the end, the CPSC released more than 800 pages which reveal, for the very first time, a comprehensive look that shows, on a number of occasions, iPods have suddenly burst into flames, started to smoke, and even burned their owners. ... Apple refused to comment, and refused to answer all of the other questions [the reporter] has been asking of the company since November."
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FOIA Documents Detail iPods Overheating, Catching Fire

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  • by Goffee71 (628501) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:09AM (#28780053) Homepage
    Apple just said it had a smokin' quarter...
    • by ByOhTek (1181381)

      Probably due to the new marketing phrase

      "Is that an iPod in your pants or are you really happy to see me?"

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mcgrew (92797)

      It wasn't Apple's fault, it was user incompetence. They should know better than to play a playlist like this:

      • Aurthur Brown: FIRE
      • Brownsville Station: Smokin' in the Boy's Room
      • Quiet Riot: Cover of the Brownsville Station song
      • Boston: Smokin'
      • The Weavers: On Top of Old Smokey
      • Johnny Cash: Ring of Fire
      • [can't think of the name of the artist]: Fire On The Mountain

      Nevertheless, at least one Apple employee will be fired.

      • by Canazza (1428553)

        - Dragonforce: Through the Fire and the Flames
        - Jimi Hendrix: Fire
        - Kings of Leon: Sex on Fire
        - Prodigy: Fire Starter
        - Jerry Lee Lewis: Great balls of fire
        - Deep Purple: Smoke on the Water

        I could go on all day :D

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by 117 (1013655)

          - - Prodigy: Fire Starter

          Also from the same band:

          • Fire
          • The Heat (The Energy)
          • Fuel My Fire
          • Spitfire
          • Hotride
          • World's On Fire
          • Take Me To The Hospital

          As I have the entire Prodigy discography on my iPod I could be perceived to be in danger....

        • by FreonTrip (694097)
          Don't forget The Trampps' Disco Inferno. I just picture legions of hipsters bursting into sparkles and hot-burning flame, their bones reduced to shimmering mirror-rubble.
      • by Vu1turEMaN (1270774) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @09:13AM (#28780571)

        I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE and I bring you......flaming iPods!!!!

      • Yeah. The employee that is completely unrelated and is just a scapegoat. While the real person responsible for it will get a raise for finding that scapegoat.

      • by Hatta (162192) *

        # [can't think of the name of the artist]: Fire On The Mountain

        The Grateful Dead. It's most often preceded by Scarlet Begonias and some delicious segue jamming.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by stewbacca (1033764)
        It was actually Motley Crue that covered Smokin' in the Boys' Room, not Quiet Riot.
      • [can't think of the name of the artist]: Fire On The Mountain

        Nevertheless, at least one Apple employee will be fired.

        Marshal Tucker?

  • by 91degrees (207121) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:09AM (#28780057) Journal
    Microsoft scramble to add explosion functionality to the Zune.
  • by gcnaddict (841664) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:10AM (#28780063)
    The nature of things hasn't changed.

    Apples can and do still go bad.
  • public perception (Score:2, Insightful)

    by hellfish006 (1000936)
    Apple will still be adored by the public, the iPod is too ubiquitous with mp3 player at this point to be shunned. Its like Windows, it may be bad and seem to be hated by a lot of people but it will still be the most dominant in the market.
  • ALARMING! (Score:5, Informative)

    by paulhar (652995) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:11AM (#28780069)

    Summary:
    > Investigation reveals an alarming number of Apple brand iPod MP3 players have suddenly burst into flames and smoke
    .
    Article:
    >When the documents finally arrived more than seven months later, they included more than 800 pages of information, including 15 burn and fire-related incidents blamed by iPod owners on their iPods.
    .
    > After conducting its own preliminary investigation, the federal agency determined that, with more than 175 million iPods sold, âoethe number of incidents is extremely small in relation to the number of products produced, making the risk of injury very low.â
    .
    I'm ALARMED!

    • Re:ALARMING! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Shag (3737) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:18AM (#28780121) Homepage

      So 1 in roughly every 11 million iPods has this sort of problem.

      Out of curiosity, are there other products that burst into flames spontaneously at rates lower than 1 in every 11 million? I'm just thinking that if I bought 11 million of anything - including fire extinguishers - I wouldn't be terribly surprised if one went *FOOM!* one day.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:40AM (#28780299)

        Apple has quashed reporting of 100% of them.

      • by Allicorn (175921)

        Humans themselves allegedly burst spontaneously into flames at frequencies not drastically smaller than that :-D

        Not quite time to splash out on that asbestos iPod sleeve just yet I think.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Luthair (847766)
        I doubt most incidents are reported.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        So 1 in roughly every 11 million iPods has this sort of problem.

        No -- 1 in roughly every 11 million iPods has reported this sort of problem.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jrothwell97 (968062)

      I'm terrified! I'm more likely to be killed by my iPod than by my tea cosy!

  • Macbook tag? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gblackwo (1087063) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:13AM (#28780095) Homepage
    I would appreciate it if we didn't tag every apple story with macbook if it doesn't have to do with macbooks. One day, I or someone else may actually want to use the tagging system for its function of looking up stuff that has to do with that tag, and I will not be happy when I want to look at macbook related stories and see 90% of the articles are about ipods.
  • by SQL Error (16383) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:15AM (#28780111)

    I mean, my iPod's only exploded what, three times? Okay, four, but that last time my girlfriend loaded some Celine Dion on it, so that falls squarely under self-defence.

    That's a far better track record than most of my electronic devices.

  • . . . no Spontaneous Human Combustion http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spontaneous_human_combustion [wikipedia.org] ?

    Now, THAT would be real news for real nerds . . .

    "Hey, that dude drank too much Jolt, and just like, sorta burned up!"

  • by pig-power (1069288)
    According to Apple in a statement:
    "Apple is about innovation, this is a self destruct feature that
    demanding consumers requested"
    Anyone else want to take a ride on the "spin machine"?
  • by wiredog (43288) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:19AM (#28780139) Journal

    High enough energy density and you go from energy store to high explosive.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by PitaBred (632671)
      No you don't. High explosives don't burn. They explode [wikipedia.org]. Gunpowder has a very high energy density, as does gasoline. Neither of them are high explosives.
  • by sir_eccles (1235902) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:20AM (#28780145)

    ...and the burning ipod did speak unto Jobs and appointed him to lead the users out of Vista and unto the promised land of OSX.

  • ...to buy an iPod. Those cunning devils at Apple have found a legal way to sell portable incendiary devices! Who wouldn't want one now?

  • Another non-story (Score:4, Informative)

    by taskiss (94652) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:26AM (#28780199)

    According to the article (you DID read the article, didn't you?) there has been no serious injuries. The article details how, after 7 months of investigation, the reporter has found bloggers blogging about overheating iPods, but the number reported in the article is about ... 35. That's out of the 175 million devices out there...

    Hardly a product flaw. Perhaps some rare individual and isolated parts are flawed, but this isn't a systemic problem.

    The Consumer Product Safety Commission conducted its own preliminary investigation and determined that, with more than 175 million iPods sold, âoethe number of incidents is extremely small in relation to the number of products produced, making the risk of injury very low.â

    Nothing to see here, move along. kdawson, queue the apple haters. Oh, and start posting real stories or find another job.

  • by Skraut (545247) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:29AM (#28780217) Journal

    A while back I had a problem with the power brick for my Macbook Pro. It was running awful hot, and some of the plastic on the cable near the magnetic adapter was starting to melt. Applecare kept trying to tell me that the problem was my fault for unplugging the adapter by pulling on the cable instead of actually grabbing the magsafe plug, and that despite me having paid for applecare, they would not fix it.

    A couple days later while playing a game in bootcamp, I went to unplug it, and was so hot that the power cord's coating actually melted to my hand. I called up AppleCare went through the situation again. I even explained that it had melted, I seemed to get nowhere. Where I had touched the cord it had now darkened considerably, probably from me being able to see the bare cable beneath it. I was trying to describe this to the tech and said something along the lines of, "Well there's melting damage, and the area is blackened a bit as if there was a small fire there"

    Suddenly the whole tone of the conversation changed, and I was immediately transfered to a supervisor. I went through about 10 minutes answering a series of questions off a script. "Did the Fire cause any property damage?" "Was there any bodily injury caused by the fire?" "Have you suffered any loss of income due to this problem?" etc etc etc.

    I answered no to everything, but simply mentioning "Fire" got me a new power brick, when no other method did. It is something Apple is clearly concerned about.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Confirmed, same experience from Apple Store in Tokyo (it's a script). Also told me "no, never heard of this before" while clearly asking scripted questions.

      Proof is the shorted power adapter can apparently cause damage to the smart battery (there is a little processor in there), and he knew this. He went right for the battery, and sure enough it no longer reported it's serial no and status... changed that too.

      My business partner had the same experience also.

      NOW--- the problem as many have said, is that th

    • by jollyreaper (513215) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @09:49AM (#28780933)

      Suddenly the whole tone of the conversation changed, and I was immediately transfered to a supervisor. I went through about 10 minutes answering a series of questions off a script. "Did the Fire cause any property damage?" "Was there any bodily injury caused by the fire?" "Have you suffered any loss of income due to this problem?" etc etc etc.

      I answered no to everything, but simply mentioning "Fire" got me a new power brick, when no other method did. It is something Apple is clearly concerned about.

      "Hi, Applecare. I bought a mac mini and a month later you released a better one with more specs. I'd like to return and upgrade."

      "No."

      "Did I mention it, ah, burst into flames?"

      "Fire?"

      "Fire fire fire!"

      "Holy fuck, we'll get a new one out immediately, just promise not to talk to the press!"

  • by thisnamestoolong (1584383) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:34AM (#28780253)
    ...I still get sick and tired of all of these absurd "special reports" on the news about the "unseen dangers" in the world that are orders of magnitude less likely to cause you serious harm than being struck by lightning. Certainly, Apple should be held responsible, particularly for their gross mishandling of the situation (trying to sweep it under the rug), but can we grow up a little? It does not seem that there has been any serious damage or injury as a result of this. This culture of fear that the news has been cultivating is beyond nauseating and is destroying our society piece by piece. Because of all the news coverage into child abductions, for instance, we teach our children that strangers are dangerous and keep them close to our chests at all times, despite the fact that the odds of a child being abducted by a stranger are literally 1 in a million! The same thing has happened with the War on Terror (TM), one terrorist attack and all of a sudden its necessary to start stripping away human rights and make air travel more or less unusable. We feel that airport security is necessary, despite the fact that it logically makes no sense. We see all the exposes on the dangers of drug use, yet fail to recognize that in reality aspirin is more dangerous. We humans are terrible at assessing risk, which leads to crap like this happening. I could fill an encyclopedia with examples of this, but I think the point I am trying to make is fairly clear, that this is juvenile behavior.
  • by AntEater (16627) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:36AM (#28780271) Homepage

    "more than 800 pages of information, including 15 burn and fire-related incidents blamed by iPod owners"

    Lets see, according to wikipedia [wikipedia.org], over 173 million ipods have been sold as of last September. Out of these, there are only 15 documented fire related incidents? Not to downplay the impact this had on the individuals but I can hardly see where this constitutes a risk to the public. At that rate, there are probably more ipod related choking incidents. The article keeps referring to the "800 pages" rather than the actual number of incidents which looks like they're trying to create the appearance that this is a big problem. If anyone feels that this is a serious danger then they need to be wearing a motorcycle hemet when walking around the house and and a life preserver at breakfast in case they might drown in their cereal bowl. Living involves some risks but I think this one I'll safely ignore.

    • "ipod related choking incidents"

      Umm, huh? I think we should be told about this hazard. I mean, I'm used to exploding batteries since Dell, but choking? Did you tell Fox? Or KiroTV? :-)

    • In other words: The Universe is out to kill you. iPods, not so much.

  • "...When the documents finally arrived more than seven months later, they included more than 800 pages of information, including 15 burn and fire-related incidents blamed by iPod owners on their iPods."

    "...After conducting its own preliminary investigation, the federal agency determined that, with more than 175 million iPods sold, "the number of incidents is extremely small in relation to the number of products produced, making the risk of injury very low."

    I love the media. "Coming up at 11, stunning new go

  • by janeuner (815461) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:45AM (#28780339)

    The article in question does not cite any raw data. Useless.

    Nokia had a similar problem with a subset of their BL-5C batteries. Nokia sold 300 million of these batteries, of which 46 million were defective. Of those, only 100 resulted in thermal failure, and all but a handful resulted only in the destruction of the device itself.

    By comparison, Apple has sold about 175 million iPods. No doubt, only a subset of those contain a defective battery which could result in destructive failure. This isn't Apple being lazy, or even worthy of the publicity this news outlet is trying to generate. At worse, the chances of YOUR iPod bursting into flames is about 1:100,000

    If you want to be cautious anyhow, follow these guidelines for protecting your iPod and any other device with a lithium ion battery:
    1. Never leave it in your car or any other environment which would reach temperatures in excess of 120 degrees.
    2. When charging a lithium ion device, do so while you are awake and in the room. If you charge overnight, do so on a non-flammable surface.
    3. Buy a leather case for your cell phone. Not only does it protect the device, it also provides a thermal barrier should the battery fail while it is on your person.

  • Repeat after me (Score:4, Insightful)

    by erroneus (253617) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @09:11AM (#28780553) Homepage

    R E M O V A B L E

    B A T T E R I E S

    I think it is plain and obvious to see that the reason Apple doesn't want removable batteries is to prevent a 3rd part market in battery sales but also to make products without removable batteries more "disposable." People can argue to the contrary, but the conclusion needs to fit with typical consumer behavior. Such behavior includes a high failure and low willingness to follow through with warranty claims and procedures among others such as the tendency to throw away instead of recycling. (It is useless to point out that some people WILL do those things. The majority of people will not.)

    • Re:Repeat after me (Score:5, Informative)

      by jo_ham (604554) <joham999&gmail,com> on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @09:40AM (#28780811)

      Removable batteries are an even greater fire risk. They can be shorted out, people try to recharge them incorrectly (even if not rechargeable), they throw them away improperly, and a large portion of your device needs an interconnect system with exposed terminals that adds size, weight, complexity and a perfect place for shorts and poor contacts.

      No, the reason the iPod has no removable battery is to make it small - the fact that you have to buy a new one when the battery is fully dead is just gravy. (Incidentally you can return your iPod to apple for the cost of a "new battery" and they'll send you an identical iPod back to you - would this programme exist if their sole aim was to "force an upgrade cycle", maybe it would, but generally the product cycle penalises those who are too lazy to send their iPod out for a new battery rather than just buying a new one, in the same way that companies make money from rebates because people are too lazy to mail them off).

      A removable battery is no more or less safe than an inbuilt one, it just makes your device larger and has the potential for abuse, by fitting an inferior 3rd party battery that very well might be dangerous (note that not all 3rd party batteries are dangerous - look at companies like PAG providing batteries for pro Sony hardware - you can buy those, or you can buy official Sony ones. Where it gets dicey is the unbranded ones that are 20% of the cost which might be great, but might be pretty deadly).

  • by T Murphy (1054674) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @09:38AM (#28780785) Journal
    Easy way to test what to think of Apple on this: have an exec carry an iPod in his pocket 24/7. If his pants catch flame, they're liars.
  • Back when 10.3 was coming out, Apple announced a feature entitled "Home on iPod", that would let you take your home settings, etc., with you on the iPod, so that you could recreate your home operating environment on any mac. It was in developer builds, and then was suddenly dropped. For those of you who don't remember it, here's a bit on it from Apple Insider [appleinsider.com].

    There was a lot of speculation at the time that it disappeared because it was overheating iPods, but Apple said nothing about it. I can't help bu
  • Lithium Polymer (Score:3, Informative)

    by amoeba1911 (978485) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @11:05AM (#28782041) Homepage
    RC planes use lithium polymer (lipo) batteries, similar as what ipods use, just bigger with much higher capacity. My friend was charging a lipo in his car and the battery burst in flames and within minutes the car was toast. Lithium is great, but everyone who flies planes knows lithium polymer batteries are very finicky. They have a maximum charge rate, if you exceed it the consequence is overheating quickly followed by bursting into 1500 degree flames. The warning label says to stop using it if it is hot, never exceed the charge/discharge rate and never charge a battery if it is hot. It's really bad for the battery to be hot, and it's worse for it to be charged when hot, but Apple insists on charging their batteries at maximum capacity ignoring what is pretty much second nature for RC hobbyists. Also, charging/discharging battery when it's hot greatly lowers the life span of the battery. I always charge my batteries at half the max charge rate and always make sure it's not warm before/during charge. My batteries that have gone through several hundred charge/discharge cycles over two years and they still work like brand new... iPod batteries w/ same chemistry last about 6 months last time I checked.
  • This is Worrysome... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by denmarkw00t (892627) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:24PM (#28784177) Homepage Journal

    but it unfortunately doesn't come as a surprise either. Apple is always reluctant, if not downright shady when it comes to defects. "Deny Deny Deny" is the mantra there, and it hasn't helped me one bit. I've had an iBook G4 for a while, and up until a couple months ago it was dead due to loose solder joints on the GPU (caused after about a year or two of normal use). The solution? Purchase a new logic board at around $250-$400, depending on options and seller. A friend happened to be scrapping his old iBook for some of the parts in the display and was kind enough to give me the logic board. Suddenly, I had a Mac, and I loved it. 1 month later? Same problem with the loose GPU solder joints.

    This issue has been documented by many an iBook G4 owner, but so far Apple has only been held responsible in Denmark where their version of the BBB did an investigation and found defects in the logic board GPU connections. This is troubling because who knows what other Apple products have had this kind of track record (remember iBook G3 batteries? other iPods pulling this?) and have been kept hush-hush, all at the expense of the customer until enough people get loud enough and then MAYBE they'll do something about it.

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