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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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  • ALARMING! (Score:5, Informative)

    by paulhar (652995) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @07:11AM (#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!

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

    by taskiss (94652) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @07:26AM (#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 janeuner (815461) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @07:45AM (#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.

  • by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @07:57AM (#28780437) Homepage Journal

    I used to work for Fisher-Price. I got a call from a woman whose child choked on something, she was an EMT so the child was fine, but it was clearly hazardous.

    Given that ONE report, Fisher-Price notified the CPSC, proposed a solution and a way of publicizing it, and within ONE WEEK there were news releases, posters being sent to pediatrician's offices, ads in parenting magazines, etc. This was not something mandated by the CPSC, but rather something F-P proposed to the CPSC and the CPSC said "Ok, sounds like a plan - go for it."

    In contrast, a less reputable children's products manufacturer had to be SUED by the CPSC and forced into a recall after their product had KILLED children. But even in that case, there was no cover-up and attempt to squelch those facts.

    Now granted - children's products are different and safety is more of a concern - but even given the less stringent attitude towards adults products, I'd say BUSTING into fucking FLAMES is enough to move past that realm of nonchalance into starting to give a shit.

    (Also, F-P's practices changed after the Mattel take-over, and I came close to being a whistle-blower about another safety issue, but that's another story.)

    Bottom line is, an ethical company would have dealt with this publicly and openly, issued a recall for the effected production runs, and taken the 10-20 million dollar hit, knowing it was worth it in the long run for good will and also knowing that it was a relative pittance compared to their massive profit margins and the BILLIONS of dollars Apple has socked away.

    A less ethical company would have been forced to act.

    An UNETHICAL company would cover it up.
    Apple is an unethical company.

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

    by jo_ham (604554) <joham999@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:40AM (#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).

  • Re:Company policy (Score:3, Informative)

    by stewbacca (1033764) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:44AM (#28780865)
    It was actually Motley Crue that covered Smokin' in the Boys' Room, not Quiet Riot.
  • Re:Another non-story (Score:3, Informative)

    by taskiss (94652) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:51AM (#28780967)

    Real story? 35/175,000,000ths of the systems were reported as overheating and that was without a technical evaluation to determine if the device did indeed overheat and a root cause analysis...and you accuse ME of trolling? Your attempt to make a mountain out of a molehill qualifies as trolling, but outlining the gist of the article is hardly such. There's nothing to cover up 'cause there's no systemic problem.

    Please at least attempt to understand the issue before replying, kthxbye.

  • by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @09:16AM (#28781303) Homepage Journal

    This is an interesting point... regard the F-P story, we also saw some issues that were wildly overblwon in the media, but the execs shrugged it off, they said that that's standard operationg procedure with the CPSC - on purpose. The theory is that if the problem is overblown, people are more likely to hear about it and pursue the fix or recall for their individual unit. If it's NOT overblown in the media, then the one person for whom it could mean a real problem may never hear about it.

  • Lithium Polymer (Score:3, Informative)

    by amoeba1911 (978485) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @10:05AM (#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.
  • by TheGeniusIsOut (1282110) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:28PM (#28785235)
    Seem to be lacking in today's internet based culture. The article states that the 800 pages contained 15 incidents, not that there were only 15 incidents. Considering the difficulty in obtaining that information, is it not likely that there is more information to be had? The last statement of the article even states that another court case in Cincinnati was not included in those 15 incidents.

    From the description of the cases involving simple overheating causing surface burns, a common thread seems to be that the device designed to be clipped to clothing while you work out was not properly sealed against moisture seeping into the case. This is what happens when you develop and manufacture electronics devices in a country with little quality control and the tendency to bully a scapegoat into suicide when mistakes are discovered by the public.

    Standardized testing of an electronic device should include HALT (Highly Accelerated Lifecycle Testing), which subjects the device to a wide range of temperature and humidity, as well as vigorous shaking and dropping. It may be acceptable to release a product that stops working under those conditions, but not one that is likely to cause damage to surrounding objects if some moisture makes it into the case.

    How quickly people seem to forget Apple's history with banning people from the forums and removing posts when being critical of an apple product or discussing problems/bugs with them, and does no one remember the silky smooth white iPod earbuds from China with the lead contaminated sheathings?

    How many iPods did not burn the user but simply stopped working mysteriously?

    Catastrophic failure is usually a minor failure that escalates for some reason, such as improper sealing allowing moisture to seep in which slightly changes the capacitance of a charging circuit, which over time causes the battery to be stressed bit by bit until it either fails safely, by no longer taking a charge, or depleting rapidly, or fails unsafely, by discharging very rapidly causing a cell to overheat and explode?
  • Hijack (Score:4, Informative)

    by Lars T. (470328) <Lars.TraegerNO@SPAMgooglemail.com> on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:38PM (#28790457) Journal
    Top Secret Apple Document: http://support.apple.com/kb/TS2099 [apple.com]

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