A Look Into: Cases And Causes Of Smartphone Explosions
Recently we have been reading reports of smartphone accidents involving electric shocks, explosions and self-combusting devices. We’d like to think that these are isolated cases but when you start to pay attention, exploding smartphones aren’t so rare that you can’t find more than a handful of extreme and bizarre gadget accidents.
(Image Source: gizmodo)
Numerous cases of smartphones exploding, imploding, turning red, bursting into flames and causing grevious harm to users have plagued smartphone users for years. However, to be fair, not all of them are caused by faulty hardware.
In this article, we will be highlighting a few of the more prominent cases and dig into the (possible) causes behind these traumatic experiences. It would at the very least put some of us at ease particularly when we are carrying the same model as the victims of some of these devices.
Recommended Reading: 5 Smartphone Cases To Survive (Almost) Any Drop
Wu Jiantong (Beijing, July 8 2013) was found spasming on the floor of his home by his sister who heard him shout for help. She succeeded in pulling the charger from the power source but by then her brother was no longer responding. When paramedics arrived, they had to pry the iPhone 4 from his left hand. He has since been in a ten-day coma in hospital (as of July 19).
(Image Source: iamunplugged)
Reports were alluding to the victim’s use of a counterfeit (knockoff) charger as the cause to the electric shock.
Ma Ailun (Xinjiang, July 12 2013), a 23-year-old flight attendant received an electric shock on her iPhone 5 as she took a call on it while it was still charging. Other reports included the fact that she had just gotten out of the bath. Her family members have since warned other users not to take calls on a charging phone.
(Image Source: interferencetechnology)
Subsequent investigations have found that the model is an iPhone 4 and although the family claimed that the charger was original, the charger plugged into Ma’s phone during the incident may be a knock off.
In some cases of burning smartphones, the phone doesn’t even have to be plugged into a power source.
A schoolboy in Gwangju, South Korea suffered burns to his fingers and butt when the spare battery to his Galaxy S2 exploded in his back pocket.
The phone itself was with school authorities as the devices were not allowed in class.
(Image Source: chosunmedia)
A hacker attending Defcon found his pants on fire when his phone battery burned up.
The battery was of a Droid Bionic smartphone but was not attached to the phone when it burned up. If it wasn’t for his hotel card key taking the brunt of the burn, he would suffer more than just a burnt pocket.
(Image Source: cnet)
The battery was not even inside the Samsung Galaxy Note when it burst into flames in a 55-year-old man’s pants pocket.
He suffered second-degree burns and a one-inch wound on his thigh. The battery was from a 2011 Galaxy Note. Samsung did not launch an investigation into this case.
(Image Source: androidcentral)
The burning battery was not an original, but made by a third-party battery maker, Anker. Anker had launched an investigation into the incident but we can’t find any release of a report online yet.
(Image Source: imgur)
(Image Source: brimtime)
More on batteries, this time while it is in the air.
Crew on board a Regional Express plane heading for Sydney on Nov 25 2011 had to use a fire extinguisher on a passenger’s iPhone 4 which was emitting not only dense smoke but also a red glow! No one was hurt from the incident. Four months later, the Australian Travel Safety Bureau released its report on the issue identifying the cause as a battery screw which had come loose (circled in red) and had punctured the lithium battery casing (in yellow).
(Image Source: imore.com)
An internal short circuit resulted from the puncture, causing ‘heating and thermal runaway‘. The battery screw was suspected to have been misplaced when the phone was sent to ‘unauthorized service providers’ for repairs. However, lithium-ion batteries have been known to combust due to other factors.
Less than a year before the iPhone 4 incident, a cargo plane carrying tens of thousands of lithium batteries ‘of various designs’ crashed into the desert outside of Dubai (September 2010).
Investigations into the incident reported a possible chemical reaction in the batteries as well as exposure to excessive heat, resulting in thermal runaway. The batteries bundled together, burned up, filling the cockpit with smoke, leading to the Boeing 747-400F crashing. There were no survivors.
This image shows an example of a lithium-ion battery (from a Boeing 787) that suffered from thermal runaway. Check out Boeing 787 Dreamliner Battery Problems for the full story. (Let’s just say you know it is bad when there is a Wikipedia page dedicated to it.)
(Image source: ntsb.gov)
It’s not always the hardware’s fault, be it the original manufacturer’s or third-party. In fact, in many cases, the injuries could well have been avoided by the phone owners themseves.
Back in December 2010, a Motorola Droid 2 owner claimed that his phone exploded and cut his ears, giving him 4 stitches. He had to be hospitalized but fortunately suffered no loss of hearing. An image of the phone showed a cracked screen and some blood splatter near the receiver’s end.
(Image Source: fonearena.com)
Later on, news reported that he simply dropped the phone which cracked the glass, and the owner had sustained the injuries because he continued using the phone, cutting his own ear from glass that jutted out of the cracks. As for the alleged explosion, well, the phone was found by Motorola to still work, and showing no signs of damage which could be caused by an explosion. Go figure.
Things Are ‘Heated’ Up!
A student in Ireland posted in a public forum, pictures of his Samsung Galaxy S3 which supposedly overheated, sparked and combusted in his car. The heat welded the case to his phone and the shaken user was glad that the incident had not happened while the phone was on his bed, next to his leg or his face.
(Image Source: sammobile.com)
After the investigation, the phone was found to have received the damage depicted in the pictures from an external source (i.e. no, it did not explode). Someone tried to microwave the device after it was dropped in water, you know, to get to the water inside the phone. The student has since fessed up to the same board calling it a "stupid mistake".
Triggering The Battery
Here’s a brief one since it happened back in May 2010. Guy buys Samsung Rogue phone. Guy drops his phone below his car seat. Guy can’t reach the phone with his fingers, moves his seat and bam! The phone explodes and he gets screen in his face and eye.
(Image Source: gizmodo)
The good news is he walked away from the explosion with minor injuries. The bad news is he killed his phone, by crushing his phone battery with the car seat. Ouch!
An Ever Present Danger
Have you come across the message that tells you to not use your laptop on your bed? The advice should extend to phones as well. And it doesn’t matter what phone you are using, be it an iPhone 4, a Blackberry or a Samsung Galaxy S3 etc.
(Image Source: techinasia)
The gist of those three stories is that the user left their phones on the bed and for reasons unclear, the phones exploded and burned through the material they were sleeping on and caused injuries to the owners. And yet, none of them had it as bad as Du.
Du (Hong Kong, July 31 2013) claimed that he was playing a game on his Samsung Galaxy S4 while it was being charged when it suddenly burst into flames. He threw the phone onto a couch which fueled the flames that spread to the curtains and to the rest of his apartment. All of it. Firefighters took 30 minutes to put out the flames, but by them all he had were ashes.
(Image Source: au.ibtimes.com)
Du and his wife suffered no major injuries and insist that all accessories of the phone, including the battery were original. Samsung’s Hong Kong branch is set to investigate the incident to determine the cause of the smartphone explosion.
For all we know the actual number of cases may be a lot higher as not everyone would like to share their exploded phone with the rest of the Web. While this list is not exhaustive, there is no reason for alarm if you see your smartphone model listed in the above as there are plenty of safety features built into these phones to keep users like you and me safe.
However, these cases do serve as a reminder as to what could happen if we do not treat our smartphones (and their batteries) in the right manner. While manufacturers apply a lot of safety features to make these phones as safe to use as possible, sometimes we can lend a hand in keeping these devices, and ourselves safe. Where possible:
- Do not let your phone or its battery be subjected to extreme heat e.g. leaving it in a parked car that is under the hot Sun. Don’t microwave it either.
- Don’t overwork your device. If it heats up, allow for it to cool down before continuing to use it.
- For your own safety, leave the phone charging far away from where you sleep and not charging overnight.
- Don’t use knock-offs (batteries, chargers etc). Accessories that are not authorized by the smartphone manufacturer for use with their smartphones could cause harm to your phone or to you. (The rule of thumb is, if you won’t let your loved ones use it, don’t use it yourself.)
- Do not mix water with electronics. Just don’t.
- Feel free to add your own advice or cautionary tale in the comments section. Your advice may be able to save someone from a smartphone-related accident.
If for some reason, you would like to know more about exploding batteries, do read up on the issue in the following resources.
- When Lithium-ion Batteries Explode – Daily Tech
- Why Smartphone, Laptop, and Airplane Batteries Explode – Gizmodo
- Why Do Batteries Explode? – Geek.com