Apple iPhone 6 battery fires likely caused by ‘external factors’

‘Thermal events’ reported in handsets, but Apple cites clearly shown external damage

Photograph: Dado Ruvic/File/Reuters

Photograph: Dado Ruvic/File/Reuters


Apple said external factors were the likely cause of iPhone 6 battery fires detailed in a Chinese consumer protection report. The report featured widely in state media and created a buzz on social media.

On Friday, the Shanghai Consumer Council released a report detailing battery fires in eight iPhone 6 handsets. It also detailed iPhone 6 handsets powering down before their batteries were depleted. These handsets were outside of a global iPhone 6 recall range announced by Apple on November 20th to address the issue.

“The units we’ve analysed so far have clearly shown that external physical damage happened to them, which led to the thermal event,” an Apple spokeswoman said in an emailed statement to Reuters late on Tuesday. She also said Apple was widening its investigation into the power-down issue.

The US tech firm has seen Chinese sales fall over the past three quarters as domestic smartphone makers compete with high-spec handsets at low price points. It is hoping to bounce back in the first quarter of next year with its iPhone 7.

Domestic handset makers also likely received a boost after South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co Ltd recalled 2.5 million Note 7 handsets globally following a series of battery fires, raising distrust of foreign smartphone brands, according to users, analysts and consumer groups.

Apple complaints

In its report, the Shanghai Consumer Council said complaints involving Apple products jumped during Samsung’s recall in October-November. Apple complaints accounted for nearly half the year-to-date total of 2,763 – itself a nearly two-fold increase from 2015.

“The Samsung case did make [Chinese smartphone users] start to think an international brand doesn’t necessarily equal a safe product,” said Nicole Peng, Asia-Pacific director for researcher Canalys.

On Monday, state media outlets featuring the council report garnered tens of thousands of comments on social media. While many doubted that the iPhone 6 was at fault, top-ranking comments expressed frustration that foreign brands could set high prices and yet not guarantee safety.

“I still worry about the iPhone in case there is indeed a problem, but it’s not investigated,” said Mr Liu (21), a student in Beijing.

“The news did make me change my Apple habits,” he told Reuters. “For example, I don’t dare play with the phone in bed. And if it heats up I quickly throw it aside.”