Is Apple hiding problems with fiery iPods?

Jamie Balderas of Arlington, Washington, told KIRO in November 2008 that her new iPod Shuffle had overheated while she was running, leaving her with a penny-sized burn mark on her chest where the iPod was clipped to her shirt

Apple iPods have overheated and burst into flames and smoke on a number of occasions, causing both injuries and property damage. And Apple has fought to keep federal government reports of these incidents from becoming public, according to a Seattle TV station.

KIRO-TV posted a story on its website Wednesday that details its investigation into a series of fiery iPod episodes that have affected numerous users across the U.S. In some cases the overheated iPods, including recent Shuffle and Nano models, have even burned their owners.

Jamie Balderas of Arlington, Washington, told KIRO in November 2008 that her new iPod Shuffle had overheated while she was running, leaving her with a penny-sized burn mark on her chest where the iPod was clipped to her shirt.

"My skin started burning really bad, like it was a bee sting that wouldn't stop," Balderas told KIRO.

Apple Stonewalled?

The station's consumer reporter, Amy Clancy, then sought U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission documents on iPod safety hazards, a process that took more than seven months, she says, because Apple's attorneys filed multiple exemptions to block the information's release.

KIRO reports: "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."

The CPCS documents contain 15 burn- and fire-related incidents that iPod owners blame on Apple's digital music player. And federal records indicate that Apple was aware of the problem, which could be caused by the iPod's lithium ion batteries, the report states.

According to Clancy, Apple has refused on comment on the iPod's overheating problems, a circle-the-wagons approach to media scrutiny that Cupertino adopts far too often.

iPod Recall Coming?

If certain iPod models are potential fire hazards, why haven't they been recalled? That's still a possibility, KIRO reports, although the federal government has yet to take action. One reason is that "the current generation of iPods uses a battery which has not been shown to have similar problems," according to CPSC documents.

If KIRO's reporting is on the mark -- and given the exhaustive detail of the report, there's no reason to believe it's not -- Apple has a lot of explaining to do. Why, for instance, did it try to block release of the CPSC documents on iPod safety issues? And then there's the new iPhone 3GS. Is it safe? While early anecdotal reports say Apple's newest smartphone can get very hot during normal use, we've yet to see dramatic accounts of flames and bodily injury.

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Jeff Bertolucci

PC World (US online)
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