Flaming MacBooks, iPods back in the news

Two reports this week surfaced about fires related to a MacBook Pro and iPod. The Apple user community can only hope this is a statistical fluke.
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor on

Two reports this week surfaced about fires related to a MacBook Pro and iPod. The Apple user community can only hope this is a statistical fluke.

The notebook occurrence was posted on Chris Pirillo's blog. He said the report was from a reader named James Bayliss, who saw a visible flame coming from the back of his MacBook Pro, which started a fire on the desktop.

James says that he was sitting at his desk and reading Digg. He heard a pop, and suddenly the MBP started sparking and smoking… and his desk started catching on fire, too! He was slapping at the small flames to get them put out, and burned his hand. He then called Apple, and started explaining the problem. He had to answer nearly 100 questions on the phone. They even asked if he had to call the fire department, or if they needed to send out an adjuster to check for damage to his house.

From the image posted on Pirillo's site, the fire appears to have started near to the left-side fan assembly. My guess is that the fan failed. This is a hot spot on the machine anyway, with the MagSafe plug and left-side board on the other side of the fan.

According to Pirillo, Apple appears to be handling the incident and investigation speedily. He said Bayliss was satisfied with Apple's response, although he's now computing on a PC notebook running Windows Vista!

The other story concerns a warning given to Apple by Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry about fires with older iPod nanos (the black and white ones). Forbes said the officials were concerned that Apple was dragging its feet.

An official from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said on Wednesday that the government is investigating a suspected defect in the lithium-ion battery and has asked Apple Japan to conduct its own inspection and check if there have been any reports of similar cases.

Everyone is sensitive to these problems and with the popularity of the iPod and the prominence of the Apple brand, it's no wonder that there are hundreds of stories about them.

However, there appears to be an industrywide issue with designs of portable electronics and battery manufacture. It's not Apple, it's all electronics makers.

A couple of weeks ago, the Korean company LG Electronics stopped selling a notebook model because of fire problems. The Korea Times said there could be a variety of technical problems.

LG Electronics is concerned over speculation that its laptops might have "significant" technical flaws in the wake of recent battery-related troubles.

The company is now considering follow-up measures, including the recall of some laptop models.

Last Friday, the country’s second-largest consumer electronics manufacturer said it will halt sales of the "Z1-A2007" model after a report of a battery meltdown. According to company officials, about 5,000 of the model have so far been produced since January 2007.

Yet, not all of the blame can be put on technology and manufacturing process. Sometimes, people just don't use the technology correctly.

A late February JoongAng Daily story about a notebook catching on fire, also from Korea, pointed out that the user put his Samsung notebook on a pillow, which covered up vents.

"The user covered the laptop's vents with his pillow for more than three hours, so his laptop overheated," the official said. "The user admitted using his laptop improperly."

Or perhaps computer makers need to understand that users will misuse their notebooks by working in bed on pillows, and design in technology that will prevent fires and overheating. That would have prevented this last case from happening.

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