Japan Demands Probe Into Cause of Nano Flameouts
Several incidents of iPod nanos bursting into flames have created consumer jitters in gadget-happy Japan. Apple is downplaying the problem, pointing out that no major injuries or damage have been reported. The problem is due to defective batteries, the company said, and only a tiny percentage of the devices have caught on fire.
There have been at least two recent incidents in Japan in which iPod nanos overheated and caused minor fires, prompting the country's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to issue a warning about the popular portable music player.
In all, there have been 14 such incidents in the country, according to news accounts, including one that occurred in March. The latest meltdowns prompted the Ministry to order Apple to investigate the device's safety and report its findings within a week.
Apple has determined that the batteries in first-generation iPod nanos sold between September 2005 and December 2006 are to blame.
The company received very few reports of such incidents -- less than 0.001 percent of first-generation iPod nano units, it said. They have all been traced to a single battery supplier.
The defect has not caused any serious injuries or property damage, the company maintained, and no similar problems have been reported in connection with any other iPod nano model.
Apple is advising owners of first-generation nanos to contact AppleCare for a replacement if their battery should overheat.
There have been similar incidents in the United States. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission would be the agency to issue a recall for first-generation nanos -- if one were warranted.
Scott Wolfson, a spokesperson for the agency, declined to say how many, if any, similar reports the agency has received.
"Because this is brand-specific and there have been no recalls, that information can only be had through a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request," Wolfson told MacNewsWorld.
The agency typically responds within 30 days, he added.
Every now and then, news of a DVD player, laptop, cell phone or music player catching on fire makes its way into the headlines. Usually, the repercussions have been minor -- but there have been some reports of laptops catching on fire during flights, a clear potential hazard.
Last year, a California man suffered second and third degree burns when his cell phone caught on fire.
The source has usually been the lithium battery powering the device.
In 2006, the number of PC manufacturers having to recall defective batteries seemed to reach epidemic proportions: Toshiba, Fujitsu, Lenovo, IBM and Dell all issued recalls that numbered into the tens of millions.
There were also cases in which Apple laptops caught on fire.
Their batteries were short-circuiting and bursting into flame when microscopic metal particles came into contact with other parts.
Cell phone batteries have also been recalled -- in some cases, because it was determined that they were counterfeit and posed a potential fire hazard.
Indeed, the number of counterfeit electronic components, such as batteries, that have made their way into the global manufacturing supply chain is an increasing source of concern, Christopher Lindsay, director of programs with the Electrical Safety Foundation International, told MacNewsWorld.
"It is very difficult to positively determine how many counterfeit batteries have started fires," usually because the evidence has melted. But safety experts, including the Consumer Product Safety Commission, warn that counterfeit products are fire hazards.
The data that ESFI can verify is discouraging, Lindsay said. "In fiscal year 2007, Customs seized US$200 billion dollars worth of counterfeit goods. By midyear 2008, shipments seized had risen 28 percent over the same time period last year."
Based on a recent survey it conducted, the organization concluded that more than 60 percent of adult Americans could not distinguish a counterfeit product or component from the real thing.