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When IPhones are Smokin’-Hot: Shibani Bhujle and the Overheated IPhone 4S

Shibani Bhujle's overheated iPhone 4S

The iPhone 4S has been on the market for two years now, but it is still reliable and an excellent choice for those who want a great phone at a discounted price. Unfortunately, the iPhone 4S may be showing its age: a Verizon customer reported recently that her iPhone 4S battery melted while sitting on her desk at work.

Shibani Bhujle, a marketing manager of a New York firm, says that she went to work one day and placed her iPhone 4S on her desk as usual. Suddenly, she saw smoke exude from the smartphone. When she opened the phone to take out the battery and protected it from possible explosion, she found the battery melting inside the smartphone case. The lithium-ion battery melted and cracked the back of her phone (the iPhone 4S has a glass backing). After the battery incident, Bhujle took her iPhone to Apple and wanted Apple to fix or replace the damaged iPhone. Apple has responded so far by saying that they cannot replace her iPhone for free, but she has the option of paying a $200 deductible to have her iPhone replaced under Verizon insurance. Bhujle was not happy with Apple’s decision, but who would be?

The iPhone 4S has suffered in the past with battery explosions and melts, but it is not the only smartphone to do so. The Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note have had their share of explosions as well, all testifying to the dangerous nature of lithium-ion batteries in smartphones and the need to “go green” to save not only batteries but also human life. Normal batteries contain energy and chemicals that could explode anywhere, leading many to suggest that less harmful energy fields such as solar energy or inductive field charging may provide more natural battery sources than li-ion items.

Bhujle has owned her iPhone 4S for a little over a year (since December 2011), so Apple’s reason to reject a free replacement stems from the fact that the battery explosion is a result of constant use. If a battery in a smartphone sits in a warm or hot environment for a long time (such as in a car on a hot weather day), the battery can become explosive. Even in a home, overheating can produce the same consequence. Since constant use of the battery is one factor that affects the battery performance, Apple decided that it was consumer use and not a defect in the product that led to its refusal to replace it.

Apple’s AppleCare Protection Plan is a clever one that you have to read in the fine print before you purchase a product that the protection plan covers. Having owned an iPhone 4S, iPad 3, and an iPod Touch third-generation, I have a great deal of experience in reading the fine print. Apple states in its protection plan that the company will cover inherent defects or flaws within the manufactured product. This means that, if your battery expends energy in two hours or less (when your battery should provide 8-10 hours of talk time and web surfing), then the company will seek to replace either the battery and/or the smartphone. If there is something wrong with the software, such as the fact that your iPhone cuts off and restarts on its own, then Apple will replace the product. If the battery overheats, Apple considers it to be a case of consumer use – although Bhujle had the same battery in the phone as the day she purchased it.

Apple could solve the problem with bad batteries by providing replaceable batteries for its consumers so that batteries can be replaced if they overheat or do not work properly. It is my belief that Apple should replace Shibani’s phone, simply because she is still under contract with the iPhone 4S, there is no replaceable battery, and her time with the phone is too small of a time to claim responsibility for a terrible battery (there are many consumers who own an iPhone 4S for two or more years and never suffer battery melts). At the same time, it is awfully hard to prove that the battery melt is the responsibility of Apple – particularly when the iPhone has experienced consumer use. Unless a defect within the phone caused the battery melt (which only an engineer or technician can reveal), then consumer use takes the blame.