A 23-year-old Chinese woman who was allegedly electrocuted
a week ago while answering a call on her charging iPhone 4 was apparently using a third-party charger
rather than an actual Apple unit, according to state-run CCTV. The incident is still being investigated by local authorities and Apple, and was originally reported as having involved an iPhone 5. Photos released by CCTV, however, clearly show the dead woman's iPhone was the 2010 iPhone 4, and the charger was not the standard Apple model. Third-party chargers are common, but can be dangerous.
Telecommunications expert Xiang Ligang, interviewed by CCTV, said that "knockoff" chargers are common in China and elsewhere, and usually sell for less than Apple's version of a replacement charger -- often dramatically less. However, Xiang said, the lower cost often hides compromises in safety that can more easily fail. A Google employee named Ken Shirriff
proved this last October when he tested real and counterfeit USB iPhone chargers, finding that a number of them took unacceptably dangerous shortcuts. Underwriters' Laboratories also issued a safety warning to consumers in March.
The victim, Ma Ailun, was a former air stewardess for China Souther Airlines who lived in the Xinjiang province. She was due to be married next month, to a pilot with the airline. Early reports suggested that Ma may have answered the iPhone while still wet from a bath, but this hasn't been confirmed.
The world learned of the tragedy when her sister took to the Chinese social network Sina Wiebo to issue a warning to others. Experts said early on that they suspected a faulty charger rather than any problem with the iPhone. Both iPhones and authentic Apple chargers have safeguards in place
to prevent any level of electric shock that could be fatal, even when wet.
Xiang also raised the possibility of voltage issues. Hong Kong and China use 220 volts as a standard, while Japan uses a standard of 100 volts. If the charger had been a Japanese copy, it is possible that it broke down and overloaded, he said. Normally, he added, the current from an overloaded charger would overheat the phone, damaging the circuits and rendering the device unusuable.
According to the CCTV report, however, Ma's iPhone was still functional and worked normally despite burn marks on its exterior. The phone, charger and plug were found to all be intact, suggesting no damage occurred to the battery of the device.
The family has said they believe Ma was using the original charger that came with the unit she purchased from an Apple Store in December. The disclosure raises the possibility that Ma purchased her unit from a counterfeit Apple store, a growing problem in China where retailers go to great pains to make their unauthorized reseller stores look as much as possible like an Apple Store. The phone and its accessories have been turned over to police, and the investigation is ongoing.
Apple issued a statement immediately after the incident became known, saying the company "was saddened to learn of this tragic incident and offer our condolences to the Ma family. We will fully investigate and co-operate with authorities in this matter." Ma was rushed to a hospital after the incident but doctors were unsuccessful at reviving her.