Third-party, unofficial chargers

It was tragic to hear that a 23 year-old Chinese Flight Attendant Ma Ailun died by electrocution from her iPhone. Same age as me. I have various iPhones I use every day plugged in for development work. It is confronting.

Over the 24 odd hours of "news" coverage it has escalated and mutated into an inconsistent miss-mash of arm-chair opinions and expert sound bites that only drive overreaching, unnecessary fear.

Pending Apple and Chinese investigators investigation into the incident, it has become clear that the cause may not be the direct fault of the iPhone or Apple.

 

What caught my interest was a screenshot from a CCTV broadcast allegedly showing the iPhone in question with its charger. 

 
Photo: Screenshot via CCTV. Source: South China Morning Post

Photo: Screenshot via CCTV. Source: South China Morning Post

Official 5V charger. Source: Apple Store China

Official 5V charger. Source: Apple Store China

 

With scorch marks around the antenna assembly the iPhone 4/4S, wrongly reported as a iPhone 5, sits next to the alleged charger. On the right is the official Apple charger for China.

 

If that CCTV footage is correct and that is the device with its charger used in the tragic incident then it is plain to see that the main factor could be the unofficial charger. It does not appear to resemble the official charger sold online or any other previous form factor of Apple charger, that I know of and could research. Verification of that theory will have to wait until the proper, official investigation is complete.

Why and how are unofficial chargers dangerous?  Some do not adhere to strict safety and design guidelines that prevent these incidents from occurring. Here is a video that tears apart some knockoff chargers and critiques their construction and components.

 
 

Here is a teardown of a genuine Apple charger.

Apple’s design provides extra safety in a few ways that were discussed earlier: the super-strong AC prongs, and the complex over-temperature / over-voltage shutdown circuit. Apple’s isolation distance between primary and secondary appears to go beyond the regulations.
— Ken Shirriff
 

Whilst I am open to the possibility that the CCTV footage was incorrect and that a genuine charger is to blame, the possibility of such an event is almost zero with the strict guidelines and higher than required safety mechanisms.  The event of the same event happening with an unofficial charger is much, much higher.

If you have an unofficial and cheap charger please buy an official or reputable charger. Cheap chargers are dangerous and can kill you.

What could Apple do? It already is trying to limit third-party Lightning cables by showing messages to the user that the cable is not genuine which "triumphantly" get circumvented by other manufacturers. If push comes to shove they could restrict charging only to authorised and genuine chargers with genuine cables to try and prevent this from happening. But that would be one step too far which nobody wants.

 

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