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China says Apple has an exploding iPhone problem

Customers gather at a store selling Apple products during the launch of the new iPhone 7 sales at the State Department Store, GUM, in central Moscow, Russia September 23, 2016. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin - RTSP36D
Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin
Careful now.
By Echo Huang
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

iPhones are not only shutting down unexpectedly in China, but apparently they’re also exploding.

Shanghai Consumer Council (SHCC), a consumer watchdog group chaired by a Shanghai member of the Municipal People’s Congress, put up a notice on its website on Dec. 2 that eight iPhones reportedly exploded from Sept. 1 to Nov. 30. The group highlighted two specific cases involving an iPhone 6 and 6s Plus:

Mr. Zhang reported to the SHCC that his iPhone 6 (bought in November 2014) suddenly started smoking and spontaneously self-combusted in standby mode on Sept. 30 this year.
Ms. Chen reported to the SHCC that an iPhone 6s Plus (bought in March 2015) spontaneously self-combusted, cracking the screen and the phone’s back with a blackening battery on Aug. 31 this year. Apple gave Chen a new one in the same model without offering a detailed explanation.

Apple told Quartz that it had analyzed some “thermal units” and found they “have clearly shown that external physical damage happened to them which led to the thermal event.” It insisted it has “found no cause for concern with these products.”

The new allegations are the latest wrinkle in an ongoing dispute between Apple and China. In November, the China Consumers Association, a consumer watchdog group affiliated with China’s State Council (chaired by premier Li Keqiang), demanded answers from Apple after many Chinese users reported their iPhone 6 and 6s devices were abruptly shutting down.

The group was dissatisfied with Apple’s response when the Cupertino, California, company insisted the problem affected only a “very small number of iPhone 6s devices” and offered to replace customers’ iPhone batteries. The China Consumers Association said the problem was much more widespread than Apple has admitted to. An Apple representative says the company is releasing a new software update next week to gather more information about the unexpected iPhone shutdowns.

Along with its recent notice about the iPhone explosions, SHCC said it had received 2,763 consumer complaints of Apple products from Jan. 1 to Nov. 30, twice that of 2015. Nearly half of the complaints were made in the past two months alone.

Neither Chinese media nor consumers seem pleased with Apple’s explanations so far. “Apple’s consecutive decline in revenues and profits (paywall) has shown that Apple is sliding and if the combustions were to cause bigger influence, Apple might very likely walking Samsung’s path,” Beijing Business Today wrote on Dec. 6 (link in Chinese).

A Weibo user (link in Chinese, registration required), meanwhile, has described iPhones as “time bombs” in people’s pockets. ”There are so many iPhone users, so it’s like everyone’s walking with a time bomb? What happened if the mobiles explode like Samsung Note 7?

The full statement from Apple is below:

Title: Statement regarding Thermal Events
We appreciate that customers are more concerned than ever about the performance and safety of batteries in their mobile devices. SHCC recently published accounts of a small number of iPhones which reportedly experienced thermal incidents. We want to assure our customers that we thoroughly investigate any such report. We have been in touch with the customers and retrieved these units for analysis.
As part of our standard process, we do a thorough forensic investigation including CT scans, cross sections, and more. The units we’ve analyzed so far have clearly shown that external physical damage happened to them which led to the thermal event. We treat safety as a top priority and have found no cause for concern with these products.
We encourage any customer who experiences an issue with an Apple product to visit an Apple Store or an Apple Authorized Service Provider, or to contact Apple Support.