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Apple Blames 'External Forces' For Exploding iPhones 383

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the don't-keep-it-in-your-pocket dept.
Shome writes "Apple has stated that there is no evidence that recent iPhone explosions reported by users are connected to overheating of batteries. It may be stated that French consumer affairs authorities have started their own investigation on the reported explosions, some of which have caused minor injuries to the users, and are studying the phone's safety features. The Inquirer runs a piece that blames Apple for blaming its customers. 'This mysterious force is not God, or a rival religion, nor does it require any metaphysics to understand. An "external force" is just Apple's term for the black shirted people who believe that everything that Apple makes is wonderful. It is what other companies call their "customers," writes Nick Farrell.'"
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Apple Blames 'External Forces' For Exploding iPhones

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  • normal for Apple (Score:5, Informative)

    by alen (225700) on Monday August 31, 2009 @11:13AM (#29261129)

    check out the Macrumors forums. people bought iMacs a few years ago and LCD's started to go after the warranty expired. The Genius's called the customers crazy. Only reason Apple payed out money with the nvidia chipsets is because they got the money from nvidia.

    there was a hard drive clicking issue with current MBP's and 7200rpm drives, including freeze ups. people took them to Apple stores and were told it was a feature.

  • Track record (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rockoon (1252108) on Monday August 31, 2009 @11:15AM (#29261161)
    ..because Apple doesnt have a track record for selling devices that explode. They certainly didn't recall 1.8 million iBook and POwerBook batteries in 2006. Definately not.
  • Re:Not quite (Score:3, Informative)

    by Sockatume (732728) on Monday August 31, 2009 @11:27AM (#29261333)

    I think it's simpler than that, they literally mean "a force has been applied to the device from outside causing it to fail", i.e. it was dropped or struck.

  • Exploding batteries? (Score:3, Informative)

    by burtosis (1124179) on Monday August 31, 2009 @11:27AM (#29261337)
    There's an app for that! Seriously though, lithium polymer batteries *can't* explode since they have no metal canister to hold the outgassing pressure. They simply 'vent with flame'.
  • Re:Not quite (Score:5, Informative)

    by dzfoo (772245) on Monday August 31, 2009 @11:44AM (#29261637)

    That's actually what their press release says. From a quote of the statement in the BBC [bbc.co.uk]:

    "The iPhones with broken glass that we have analysed to date show that in all cases the glass cracked due to an external force that was applied to the iPhone."

    Of course, it is more fun to blame the Eveel Apple and accuse them of being disingenuous, than to actually read what they said.

            -dZ.

  • by gnick (1211984) on Monday August 31, 2009 @11:49AM (#29261683) Homepage

    I know little about these specific explosions, but modern high-density batteries pack a heckuva lotta energy into a tiny package. If mechanical damage causes an electrical cell-short, you can expect that energy release to be pretty dramatic. If not an explosion, certainly a rapid heat discharge. That's tough to design around unless you just make the thing bigger and heavier to withstand the pressures exerted by the worst-case ass-press.

  • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Monday August 31, 2009 @11:53AM (#29261745)

    Sure, it may be "external forces" like accidently dropped phones, high- or low humidities or temperatures, or what-not, but if the iPhone explosion rate is higher than competitive phones, you have to ask yourself why iPhones are so fragile.

    Come on Apple, find the cause and unless it's customers deliberately abusing their phones, fix it.

    Let's see - single digit reports, all in one country; hardly enough data to determine anything, other than a few screens broke in France. No evidences of "explosions" Apple should certainly look into it, but at this point it's hard to tell what is wrong or who's fault it is. Until Apple gets the phones, pulls them apart and see's what happened everyone, including Apple, is guessing.

    If it is an iPhone problem, I wonder why the issue is so localized; I'd expect a design flaw to show up more often and more evenly spread over a production run.

    Personally, my experience with Apple addressing issues that point to design flaws is good - I've had 2 MB's keyboards replaced, free of charge with 1 day turnaround, due to cracking issues. One was way out of warranty, yet they fixed it for free.

  • Re:Ya know... (Score:2, Informative)

    by superdana (1211758) on Monday August 31, 2009 @11:56AM (#29261773)
    Yes, I recall reading a warning about this in (I think) the literature that came with my 360.
  • Re:Ya know... (Score:3, Informative)

    by stickrnan (1290752) on Monday August 31, 2009 @11:56AM (#29261777)

    Most publishers will replace damaged discs for a fee. I think the going rate these days is about $20.

  • Re:normal for Apple (Score:5, Informative)

    by not already in use (972294) on Monday August 31, 2009 @11:56AM (#29261781)
    I bought a first gen MacBook Pro. During manufacturing there was so much thermal paste put on the processor, graphics chip and northbridge that it caked out onto the motherboard and was actually insulating from the copper heatsink. It was a well known manufacturing issue that Apple never acknowledged even though every 1st gen up to a certain point was affected by it. I have pictures of mine, personally, that I took apart, voiding the warranty, to fix.
  • by Sandbags (964742) on Monday August 31, 2009 @12:04PM (#29261885) Journal

    Have you see the pics? These phones have severely cracked screens, but 90% of the glass is still there... This is not exactly an "explosion" though the imact in a few cases caused the LiIon battery pack to outgas or "pop"

    In every case reviewed thus far however, "external pressure" clearly indicated the force was a twisting or bending, or an impact on the glass itself pushing in. The glass is not boken outwards, so any glass discharged from the device, per the evidence presented, was likely shot up from the impact with ground, or a couple of kids were wrestling over the device and bent it in such a was to send glass shards outward.

    NO evidence of the battery, or the glass itself, being a fault has been shown in any of these cases. Though little is public information, Apple has libberously documented each suspected case for a device returned to them for examination, and it;s consistant evidence.

  • Re:normal for Apple (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sandbags (964742) on Monday August 31, 2009 @12:08PM (#29261951) Journal

    lol, it WAS a feature. It's a feature of the drop detection system. Unfortunately, the system in the Seagate HDD was much more sensitive, or conflicted with Apple's own protection system built into the macbook, and it took SEAGATE a couple of weeks to develop a patch that Apple tested and then distributed. It only effected a few thousand machines where the disk was upgraded to a non-default selection, and this disk from Seagate should NOT have had this system enabled in the first place. (and the drives apple initially tested did not have this feature enabled, but seagate changed the firmware without changing the model number in later shipping drives, causing the issue, this is a common logistics issue in manufacturing, and segate should have clarified the change with a revision number or notified apple to retest the drives)

    Thanks for spreading more FUD and making a 3rd party vendor's firmware issues look like Apple's fault...

  • Re:normal for Apple (Score:2, Informative)

    by Mr.G5 (722745) on Monday August 31, 2009 @12:47PM (#29262599)

    I had a 2.5GHz PowerMac G5 from 2004, the one they introduced when they couldn't reach the 3GHz Steve Jobs had promised to have by then. As a result of desperately trying to ramp up the clock speed they ended up used a custom-designed liquid cooling system to get the thing to be stable. I had a feeling the day we bought the machine that the cooling system would crap out sooner rather than later and bought the $300 AppleCare 3-year warranty extension thinking it would pay for itself.

    Fast forward 5 years. This June I noticed a small green puddle underneath the tower and realized exactly what I had feared had happened 6 months out of warranty. Opening the case I realized the logic board, processors, power supply and cooling system were all coated in coolant and had started to rust away. Looking it up on the net I found forums where people claimed they had managed to get Apple to fix their machines for free out of warranty after some negotiation on the phone. I decided to book a Genius bar appointment and see where I could get. I put the tower on a really squeaky push cart and rolled it all the way through the shiny Apple store to the Genius bar at the back where I then placed it on the counter and opened the side panel, bits of rust and coolant falling onto the pristine Genius bar in front of me. The Genius on hand didn't say much and took about 30 minutes to calculate that a repair would cost me over $2,000 and that it would probably be better worth my money to buy a new one. I then asked to speak to a manager, which the Genius reluctantly complied with. After a few minutes with the "Lead Genius" (I love that title) I pointed out that it was unreasonable that a single poorly designed part failing should pretty much destroy a $4000 computer only months out of warranty, I also pointed out that others online had managed to have Apple fix the machines for free. He agreed that it was unreasonable, and offered me a brand new quad-core Xeon Mac Pro as a free replacement. I eagerly agreed and walked out of the store with my new machine and my faith in Apple restored.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 31, 2009 @01:20PM (#29263097)

    Don't cry little boy. Just because Apple have some bad apples in their sold inventory, you don't have to take it so personally. As for information, you must have missed the recent 800 page report details this very issue - yes 800 pages of real paper!

  • by xlotlu (1395639) on Monday August 31, 2009 @01:39PM (#29263401)

    I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or trolling, but I'll bite:

    I've been sitting my ass on mobiles for 10 years. That's all my phones except my first brick of a Sony, that couldn't fit in my backpocket.

    Out of all the perverted treatment I subjected my phones to, the only one that got hurt was an Ericsson T28: its screen got cracked when I slipped on ice and landed on my ass. That's my full weight landing on a thin glass+electronics+thin metal/plastic shell, and the phone was still working but the LCD was barely readable.

    Compare that to 2 out of 6 iPhone owners I know -- they got their screens cracked: one vibrated itself off a table, and the other one got dropped on concrete. I know I've dropped my phones many-a-times from varying heights, and none got hurt. Probably because other manufacturers build their devices for real-world use, and test them as such: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zES6byXbOaE [youtube.com] -- jump to about 6:00 and witness the bending test, aka ass-sitting-on-cellphone-test.

    Does Apple test the iThingies like that? Do they bake them to unbearable temperatures? Probably not, because this looks like a design flaw easily uncovered with a bit of prodding/bending/overheating.

  • by vlm (69642) on Monday August 31, 2009 @01:49PM (#29263539)

    I'm glad all my laptops use NiMH, since it's been around quite a big longer (almost 20 years) and the bugs have been removed. I'm sure Lithium batteries will be a great product to own... circa 2020.

    Naaaaaah. The main thing that limits the short circuit current of a battery is it's internal resistance. And different battery families have considerably different resistances. Check out the mighty wikipedia:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internal_resistance [wikipedia.org]

    The lower the internal resistance, the higher the overall battery efficiency, especially at high currents, but the more dangerous a short circuit is.

    So, as alot of automotive mechanics and UPS repairmen know, short out a lead acid cell, and you get a "glowing crowbar/screwdriver of doom".

    As the R/C airplane guys know, short out a NiCad and it'll pop, quite violently. My father had a RC plane pack pepper a styrofoam ceiling with foil fragments in the 80s during fast charging (no one hurt, no serious property damage, but that was the end of that pack...)

    wikipedia's mostly made up numbers show a lithium has about 1/2 the internal resistance of a NiMH. So, that would be twice the short circuit current. Thanks to P=I2R that would be four times the heat output. Lithiums have a much higher energy density, meaning the lithium either has more energy to convert into heat, or that its an equal amount of heat in a smaller volume.

    I'd conservatively estimate a shorted Lithium will inherently make a bang thats about ten times bigger than the bang from a shorted NiMH. Plus or minus engineering design effects, like corroded emergency vents in a NiMH, flamability and boiling points of the different electrolytes, etc. This would make a highly entertaining mythbusters episode.

  • by russotto (537200) on Monday August 31, 2009 @01:55PM (#29263625) Journal

    The computer and phone industries aren't used to being held to the safety standards of the auto industry. Legally, though, they have the same responsibilities.

    I'm pretty sure they don't. Not in the US, and probably not anywhere else. Computers and phones are regulated by the CPSC (and the FCC); cars are regulated by the NHTSA. Totally different set of laws, regulations, and responsibilities.

  • Re:Ya know... (Score:2, Informative)

    by vlm (69642) on Monday August 31, 2009 @02:02PM (#29263727)

    Whether the cost is $0.6 or $600 - the point is that it was his mistake, and so he pays the price.

    Disagree. Major manufacturer design failure. The game publisher and retailer knew what they were getting into when they decided to sell it. They should eat the cost of a very poor design.

    It's not the manufacturer's fault that he moved it while it was spinning - something common sense would say not to do.

    My car CD/MP3 player has not scratched a disk in approx 8 years of driving over potholes.

    My ancient sony disk-man CD player has never scratched a CD while in motion. Skipped while playing, yes, but no damage.

    Apparently rotating a standard size optical disc without grinding it like a car disk brake rotor has been a solved problem, industry wide, for at least a decade, unless you're microsoft.

  • by BrokenHalo (565198) on Monday August 31, 2009 @02:08PM (#29263843)
    if a manufacturer can not design a cell phone to withstand normal use by normal people, they should not be the business of manufacturing cell phones.

    That seems to be something Motorola has got right. My wife and both have Razr2 V9 phones, and I have always been a bit suspicious of their shininess.

    However, a couple of weeks ago, my wife managed to drop her phone in the path of a tractor I was driving. Sure, the glass splintered due to the "external force" as one would expect. But apart from that (and a few scratches), the device is still perfectly functional. Call that an endorsement if you will, but I don't believe the iPhone would stand up to the same treatment.
  • Re:Ya know... (Score:4, Informative)

    by cawpin (875453) on Monday August 31, 2009 @02:22PM (#29264007)

    the point is that it was his mistake, and so he pays the price.

    There's only one problem with that assertion. Microsoft specifically said playing games or DVDs with the system in a vertical position was ok. Scratched discs were a well known problem.

  • by lorenzo.boccaccia (1263310) on Monday August 31, 2009 @02:27PM (#29264111)
    why nobody can use google this days? http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/411365/1466257 [tvnz.co.nz] here you are. 100+ nokia explosions for that product.

    so, what I'm comparing again?
  • Re:normal for Apple (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sandbags (964742) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:18PM (#29265727) Journal

    No problem. i agree. My post was simply top state you 1) can't hold Apple personally responsible (yes, Apple has to fix, it, but you can't BLAME them for the issue); 2) The media exclaimed the whole product line was at fault, and it was a mainbord issue, and started demanding recalls of all notebooks (effected or not), before Apple even had a week to diagnose the issue (which did not come to light until several weeks after it shipped), and then further it actuallyl took some time for SEAGATE to fix it after Apple very quickly announced what the issue was after their diagniostics of an effected machine.

    Apple acted as best as they could, do determine the cause, produce a short term workaround, and then distribute a BIOS Fix. Simply replacing the effected HDD was not an option as Apple did not have an alternate 5400RPM drive in the supply pipeline (not even a bigger one), and the fix was due in a mere few weeks. Backlogging genius techs with thousands of maches to replace non-faulty drives and inconvenience customers with data copies is not a good business practice is a short term workaround (disabling the drop detection in the BIOS) followed by a forthcoming firmware patch would have solved the issue. Can you imagine waiting a few hours for a repair at a store 2 hours from your home to find out the patch came out the next day?

    Yea, Apple had to fix it. AND THEY DID. ...and it wasxn't their fault, and short of an annoyance, it didn't stop machines from working. Had it been more serious, or potentially caused data loss if there was a real threat of injury (like their laptop battery recall, which brought back 1.6 million batteries after ony 2 (yes 2) failed...

  • Re:Not quite (Score:3, Informative)

    by Sandbags (964742) on Monday August 31, 2009 @04:23PM (#29265823) Journal

    Yup, you didn't read the Apple manual and SAFETY WARNINGS page that came with your device, did you?

    I did...

    It was fairly clear.... Never expose device to more than 130 degrees F, never use for extended periods in hot sun, never submerge in water, take caution not to drop on hard ground or from a hight above 6 feet (g-force shock alone, not just blunt trauma, can cause LiIon cells to short and overheat during rapid discharge), never leave on in a closed bag, purse, pocket, or insulated sleve.

    All these things were indicated as possible cause of fire or dangerous battery outgassing possibly including explosion.

    Every device with a LiIon battery included these warnings. Most people ignore them completely.

  • by raynet (51803) on Monday August 31, 2009 @06:10PM (#29267305) Homepage

    Here is a video of exploding Li-Po battery http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3o_2mwRPdw [youtube.com]

  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Monday August 31, 2009 @07:13PM (#29267867)
    1. Yes, some people are stupid. All the more reason to design phones -- which are commonly slipped into pockets -- to survive various sorts of non-ideal treatment.
    2. If you are designing a system for a non-technical crowd, you need to give it relatively wide tolerances. Non-technical folks may very well believe that since a commercial shows a netbook being stuck in someone's back pocket, the netbook can survive being sat on. Warnings are insufficient: "Nobody ever reads the manual." If a device must be treated with the utmost care, it does not belong in the hands of the average consumer, who will undoubtedly mistreat it.

    Again, it is a matter of engineering. Consumers mistreat their devices. The more portable the device is, the more people mistreat it. A cell phone is extremely portable, and if you designing a cell phone, you should design it to withstand the conditions that people subject other cell phones to: pockets, bags/briefcases/backpacks, dropping, hot environments, vibrations, dust, moisture, etc. No, it does not need ludicrous tolerances; it does not need to operate underwater or inside a volcano, but if it stops working because it was stored in a pocket on a 95 degree day, it is a poorly designed phone.

  • by TRRosen (720617) on Monday August 31, 2009 @07:47PM (#29268171)

    No boom there... just an emphatic poof...and this is absolute worse case purposely pushing way more current into the battery then intended. Given enough current I could make a potato explode.

      AND DID YOU NOTICE in every instance the Li-Po battery swells to at least twice its normal volume before Flameout a pretty obvious warning sign. Of course you don't see the same experiment with other battery types as the people that tried it are still picking bit of battery out of the flesh.

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