Japan investigates sparking iPod

Nano sparks while connected to a computer, Japan's ministry of trade and economy suspects battery

A Japanese government agency has ordered an investigation into possible defects in Apple's first-generation iPod nano after one of the music players emitted sparks while charging, wire service reports said today.

According to the Associated Press, an unnamed official at Japan's ministry of trade and economy said the agency suspects the lithium-ion battery. Although the meltdown occurred in January -- the nano sparked while it was connected to a computer -- a complaint was not filed until this month, the AP said. No one was injured.

Like most rechargeable consumer electronic devices, Apple's iPods rely on a lithium-ion battery. Batteries using that technology also power most notebook computers, where recalls of defective batteries have been common in the past.

In August 2006, reports of similar problems -- overheating, damage and in some cases, fires -- prompted a massive recall of lithium-ion batteries made by Sony and supplied to several prominent notebook computer makers.

Apple, for example, recalled about 1.8 million batteries used in its PowerBook and iBook laptops, while Dell recalled 4.1 million batteries. Sony extended the recalls until the number of laptops affected broke the 10 million mark. In the fall of 2006, Sony also blamed the recall for a poor financial quarter.

A search through Apple's own support forums today found one message dated February 20 from an iPod nano user who reported a similar situation.

"Is there something wrong with the battery they put on the first gen ipod nano[?] mine just got blown to pieces. I was just charging it on my Laptop then it suddenly sparks and it caught fire. even the clicking wheel got melted. and the back of the ipod split open," said a user identified only as "srojtas."

The ministry has told Apple Japan to find out what caused the nano to spark, and report its findings. Apple representatives in the US did not reply to a request for comment.

The first-generation iPod nano debuted in September 2005, but was replaced by the completely redesigned nano two years later.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld

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