Friday, October 05, 2007

Apple iPod Nano Catches Fire, Burns Man's Pants

Danny Williams was not injured as a result of the trouser conflagration. The iPod, alas, perished in the fire.

An Apple iPod nano owner from Douglasville, Ga., claims that his iPod nano caught fire in his pocket, according to a report that aired on Atlanta's WSB-TV.

Danny Williams, who works in a kiosk at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, claims that he has been in contact with Apple and that Apple wants him to send his scorched Nano in for a replacement.

"I'm still kind of freaked out that after only a year and a half my iPod caught fire in my pocket," Williams said to a WSB-TV reporter.

Williams was not injured as a result of the trouser conflagration. The iPod, alas, perished in the fire.

The iPod nano relies on a lithium ion battery. "Lithium-ion batteries pack in a higher power density than nickel-based batteries," Apple explains on its Web site. "This gives you a longer battery life in a lighter package, as lithium is the lightest metal. You can also recharge a lithium-ion battery whenever convenient, without the full charge or discharge cycle necessary to keep nickel-based batteries at peak performance."

Since August, 2006, Apple, Dell, Lenovo, and Toshiba have all issued recalls for lithium ion batteries manufactured by Sony that were used in notebook computers.

On August 24, 2006, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Apple issued a recall of rechargeable, lithium-ion batteries made by Sony for certain iBook G4 and PowerBook G4 notebook computers. The recall was based on nine reports of batteries overheating, two of which involved minor burns.

In October of last year, Sony said it would take a charge of 51 billion yen, about $440 million at today's exchange rate, to cover the cost of its recalled batteries.

Sony is by no means alone in having battery issues. In August, Finnish phone maker Nokia recalled some 300 million batteries made by Matsushita between December 2005 and November 2006. Last December, Sanyo recalled 1.3 million mobile phone handset batteries for safety reasons.

It's not immediately clear what company made the battery in Williams' iPod nano. The battery in the iPod nano does not list its manufacturer. And Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

WSB-TV also noted that Apple refused to talk about the incident.

Donald R. Sadoway, Professor of Materials Chemistry at MIT, says that lithium ion batteries can be manufactured to operate safely and worries that the technology is at risk of being unfairly maligned because of greed.

"Lithium ion technology was introduced in mid-1990s and we had relatively uneventful use of the technology until several years ago when some of the producers decided to get a bit greedy and hold back on enough of the safety issues," said Sadoway. "As we've moved the technology from Japan to China, we've seen a decrease in reliability. That's not to say that because it comes from China it's of inferior quality, but I don't think anyone would be surprised to learn that quality varies widely in Chinese factories."

In 2000, Sony said that it had invested $23 million in manufacturing facility in Wuxi, China, to manufacture lithium ion polymer rechargeable batteries. The manufacturing operation was scheduled to begin production in April, 2001.

Sony also manufacturers lithium ion batteries at plants in Fukushima, Japan and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

"The manufacturers have to stop being so greedy and spend another dollar or two and give us something that doesn't go critical on us," said Sadoway.

By Thomas Claburn, InformationWeek


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