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Apple slammed over power adapter recall, 'incidents' may be under-reported

Apple has been slammed for its handling of a massive international recall of dangerous power adapters.

Peter Neumeister's broken Apple wall adapter caused an electric spark.
Peter Neumeister's broken Apple wall adapter caused an electric spark. Photo: Peter Neumeister

Reports suggest that adapters breaking and exposing consumers to risk of electric shock may be under-reported, with the company potentially aware of the dangers since at least 2006.

The recall of Apple wall adapters across its range of portable products — including iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, iPads and iPods — was announced on Friday and spanned 13 years worth of product sales.

A Reddit user said 'bad glue' caused this Apple adapter to break when it was removed from the wall socket, exposing live ...
A Reddit user said 'bad glue' caused this Apple adapter to break when it was removed from the wall socket, exposing live prongs. Photo: Reddit: hobbygogo

Apple said it was only aware of 12 "incidents" worldwide relating to the recall. It remains unclear whether this meant 12 actual cases of electric shock, or merely of exposure to risk after adapters broke, leaving live parts exposed.

A number of consumers have written to Fairfax Media following the announcement to share their experiences with Apple adapters "short-circuiting", breaking, causing electrical sparks and, in one Australian case which Apple was aware of in 2006, causing a fire.

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The cases raise questions about Apple's knowledge of the faulty adapters much earlier on, while continuing to sell them over the 13-year time frame.

In 2006 Melbourne resident Felicity Cook experienced a small house fire after a faulty Apple G4 iBook power adapter "exploded".

A letter and financial documents seen by Fairfax Media show Apple was aware of the incident and paid the customer compensation the same year.

A copy of the letter written by Ms Cook, dated 12 September 2006 and addressed to Apple's customer relations department in Sydney, states that "the Apple power adaptor on our G4 iBook exploded and caught fire on the 14th of August". The letter cites a case number.

A cheque from Apple Computer Australia Pty Ltd dated 11 October 2006 reimbursed Ms Cook for the cost of a replacement powerboard and adapter, and an electrician's fee, totalling $218.91.

Apple declined to comment on the matter.

Yet many more Apple customers have come forward detailing how easily the external part of their adapter, which connects to the wall socket, came off and exposed live parts.

Brisbane resident Peter Neumeister said his seven-year-old daughter was "terrified" and in tears after she knocked a plugged-in iPad wall adapter last year, causing an electrical spark with smoke and triggering the house's power to switch off.

"Not knowing anything about electrical equipment she tried to push the piece that fell loose back onto the charger, but somehow the charger sparked and blew the cover back off, with a flash and black smoke," Mr Neumeister said.

"I was really surprised how easily the charger broke, it was traumatising for my daughter."

Mr Neumeister said he was "certain" the number of similar incidents occurring as a result of the faulty adapters was "much greater" than Apple was letting on.

"Looking at the internal part of the charger with the cap removed you can clearly see the positive and negative contacts so the chances of an electrical shock are real," he said.

In 2012, Sydney resident Sandra Eckersley was given a replacement iPhone wall charger from Apple after it caused a "spontaneous explosion" which burnt the surrounding wall. She was not compensated for the damage.

A Fairfax IT support person detailed an incident from five years ago where the wall adapter for his 13-inch MacBook, purchased in 2009, broke.

"At the time I thought [it] was a massive electrical hazard when I saw the exposed wires," he said.

"It's good to see Apple have finally noticed this is an issue and are now correcting it."

Other customers have posted anecdotes on social media detailing how prongs separated from Apple adapters when they simply tried to remove them from the wall.

And, in what may or may not be incidents related to potentially faulty adapters, two Fairfax readers recalled wall adapters causing their MacBook Pros to buzz and shock them.

"If I have the battery charging while I am using the keyboard I get small shocks to my wrists from the edge of the computer," one reader wrote.

"When I plugged the adapter into the wall and used the laptop at the same time, I could feel a slight vibration feeling coming from areas around the palm rest," wrote another reader, Henry Lam.

"A similar thing happened to a non-related electronic device I had before, and the result of that — the motor blew."

Another Apple customer posted a similar problem on a Reddit thread: "My Macbook has been zapping me through the chassis for years now," the user said.

Tom Godfrey, spokesperson for consumer group Choice, called the recall an "absolute shocker" and said Apple needed to come clean and provide more detail around the 12 "incidents", which he believed were "potentially under-reported".

"Where did they occur? Who did they affect? Give us a bit more information," Mr Godfrey said.

"Since the recall has been announced a lot more people have come forward [to Choice] with examples of how they've received shocks when a charger failed ... it's deeply concerning."

Mr Godfrey said Apple's recall notice was confusing and lacked information, particularly around which particular products were shipped with the affected adapters and how many were sold in each market.

In contrast, Microsoft issued a recall for power packs shipped with its range of Surface Pro tablets just over a week ago, and was able to put a figure — 285,000 — on the number of products affected.

Customers affected by the recall can follow instructions at Apple's website to arrange a replacement adapter.

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