A woman says the battery in her iPhone suddenly overheated this week, oozing a dark liquid and destroying the phone. Apple, however, is refusing to replace the phone, according to its owner, Shibani Bhujle, a marketing manager in New York.
It’s not the first report of iPhone batteries overheating, though the incidents appear to be rare and have also affected other cellphones. In 2011, an iPhone 4 turned red hot and began emitting dense smoke in the cabin of a commercial flight in Australia; no one was injured. Last year, Samsung said it would investigate a report of its Galaxy S III bursting into flames in Ireland. And also last year, a Motorola Droid Bionic was said to have caught fire in its owner’s pants.
In Bhujle’s case, her iPhone 4S was sitting on her coffee table on Monday, Jan. 28, when the phone’s display unexpectedly turned on and then off. “Within a minute, there was a very strong smell—it smelled like something was burning,” she told Quartz in an interview today. “I picked up my phone and it was very, very hot. It wouldn’t turn on. In the following minute. I couldn’t hold it because it was too hot to touch. I was panicking. I expected it to explode or something.”
Bhujle said she pried off the back of the phone with a butter knife to investigate the issue and discovered the melted lithium ion battery. She provided us with photos of the phone, which we corroborated by examining metadata attached to the photos, but her account of how the phone came to be destroyed couldn’t be independently confirmed.
We’ve asked Apple for comment and will update if the company responds. We also spoke to Matt Zellas, senior manager of the Apple store where Bhujle took her phone after incident, but he referred us to Apple’s public relations department.
At the Apple store, on the corner of 14th Street and 9th Avenue in Manhattan, Bhujle said Apple technicians and Zellas, the manager, took photos of the phone and asked her a long list of questions, including whether the phone had caused her bodily injury. “I said, ‘Yeah, it burned my fingers,'” she told us.
Later in the day, Bhujle says she was told that Apple could not replace the phone, which she purchased in December 2011. She could buy a new phone at full price or use Verizon’s phone insurance, which would require a $200 deductible.
“I’m shocked that they’re handling it like this,” Bhujle said.
The upshot of Bhujle’s experience may simply be that lithium ion batteries, which are found in most smartphones and many consumer electronics, remain prone to overheating, though the technology has improved in recent years. In 2007, Nokia was forced to recall 46 million lithium ion cellphone batteries after reports of overheating. And the recent grounding of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner airplanes followed repeated incidents of its lithium ion batteries catching fire.