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Attack of the Killer iPods?

By Fred J. Aun MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
May 11, 2007 2:39 PM PT

The headlines were rather scary.

Attack of the Killer iPods?

A study found that Apple iPods can cause pacemakers to malfunction.

The articles reporting this news arose from a presentation made at the Heart Rhythm Society's annual meeting in Denver this week. Those attending the meeting heard that electrical interference of pacemakers was found about 50 percent of the time when an iPod was held within several inches of a patient's chest for five to ten seconds.

Sometimes, iPods were found to interfere with the implanted devices even when they were held 18 inches away, said the reports. One time, a pacemaker completely stopped functioning, reported one article.

Why Just iPod?

Although the study was conducted at the Thoracic and Cardiovascular Institute at Michigan State University and overseen by Dr. Krit Jongnarangsin, assistant professor in the department of internal medicine at the University of Michigan, its author, Jay Thaker, is a 17-year-old high school student.

That alone isn't what's causing a number of gadget lovers to cry "foul." Although the study did not test other portable music players, its results could be misconstrued to suggest iPods are more dangerous for pacemaker wearers than are other electronic gadgets.

Neither Jongnarangsin nor Thaker could be reached for comment or to clarify whether their research determined which pacemakers were most affected.

Older pacemakers would perhaps be more susceptible to electromagnetic field disturbances than would newer models. Those fields surround us, after all, and they are probably getting stronger every time another person gets a cell phone.

Then there's the whole iPod thing. One wonders if, say, a Microsoft Zune would also alter the pace of a pacemaker. The people most likely to make that point would be Apple, but iPod division spokesperson Tom Neumayr declined to comment for this story.

The Xerox of MP3 Players?

One thing the report might prove is that "iPod" is steadily becoming a generic word for "portable music player." One might not blame the journalists for it this time, since the study authors did use Apple's players only, though stories about portable music players often refer to all such devices as "iPods."

"As electronic devices permeate our space, we will likely increasingly focus on how they affect each other," Enderle Group Principal Analyst Rob Enderle told MacNewsWorld. "We've certainly seen concerns by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), which asks that devices be turned off during the critical take-off and landing portions of a flight and have known for some time that hospitals don't want cell phones running near critical monitoring equipment."

The fact that people tend to lump all MP3 players under the iPod label could be seen as a good thing for Apple, particularly if one buys into the "all publicity is good publicity" theory. However, it would be wrong, said Enderle, to suggest Apple's ubiquitous music players are more dangerous than other companies' versions and, for that matter, wireless gadgets by any maker.

"The iPod is most often chosen because it is the most prevalent, but wireless devices are probably the most dangerous because they actively broadcast," he said. "In all cases, it would be wise for the industry to get more aggressive at shielding because we are becoming more dependent on electronics and thus more at risk if one device creates problems for any other, particularly if that other device is in charge of keeping us alive."

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