Today is Apple’s Yay! New Product Day!

Meh.

As a long-time fan of Apple, writing this on an Apple computer, I am strongly indifferent about today’s reveals.

I was lukewarm last time too. Maybe I want an iPad Pro, maybe I’ll want a smaller version to be announced today (rumour goes), but I probably can’t afford either, so I’ll make do with what I have.

What I’m really excited about is Apple’s stalwart defence of universal security in its systems, refusing to simply hand over the keys to the kingdom for the sake of a single device.

There are many who argue with me on this point, and fine. It is a complex argument. As I see it the implications of Apple breaking its own encryption extend beyond U.S. borders, and I believe Apple is doing the right thing. But that’s not what I’m writing about today.

I bring it up because, as a company willing to stand up to the U.S. government on principle, Apple has failed to find the moral imperative to address the Lithium Ion battery problem.

I believe Apple has had the opportunity to do so when reviewing the batteries for its thinner, lightweight devices. I believe Apple’s failure to do is a missed opportunity to once again leap ahead of the pack with true world-altering innovation.

We’ve Seen this Film Before

This weekend, we had another mobile phone fire onboard, this time on an Alaska Airlines flight. A passenger was watching a film on her smartphone on a flight bound for Hawaii when flames suddenly leapt from her screen.

In this case, the device catching fire happened to be one of the new iPhone 6 models. Perhaps that’s why this incident got more press than many other similar incidents.

Tech Has to Solve This Because Aviation Can’t

From the beginning, I have argued that this is an issue that goes beyond the scope of aviation to solve. In this case, aviation can only cope.

Our dependency on Lithium battery power sources for electronic devices poses a threat to aviation in many ways, but it is up to tech to drive change.

As tech has failed to do so, the last recourse for aviation, I believe, is to force tech to action by making Lithium batteries extremely inconvenient to transport.

But that seems unlikely. Beyond political issues in the way, an absolute ban could prove more problematic to aviation, IATA has pointed out, and could simply lead to dangerous shipper non-compliance.

So we’re left with this happening in-flight:

The Alaska Air spokesman told ABC News, “The fire was quickly extinguished by our flight attendants, who are trained for situations like these.”

Crew trained to deal with these problems, special equipment designed to handle these issues, new policies and procedures, and still an ongoing risk of fire onboard.

Apple is not the only manufacturer using Lithium power sources. But it could be the first to support safer alternatives.

If Apple were to do that, I would really get excited about today’s announcement or the next.

I might even find a way to stretch my budget to replace all my devices with new safer, more responsible, and sustainable ones.

Otherwise, today’s reveal of new smaller/lighter/shinier/multicoloured blah, blah, blah..meh.

5 thoughts

  1. I have heard of phones bursting into flames before, but there is normally a explanation like the user had the phone repaired by a non certified repairer or tried to fix it themselves and forced a screw through the battery. It would be interesting know why this iphone burst into flames. I am Android user myself and I have had several phones over the years not one has done this maybe I am just lucky or know not to mess with batteries or try fix my own phone when it is broken.

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    1. Hello Glen, I wrote the article around the Apple announcement and it simply was random coincidence that an Apple phone was involved in this latest incident, but it can happen with any phone brand. It’s generally advisable to check devices for damage, otherwise they should be fine, and there has been no report on whether this particular phone was damaged. CASA had a great video explaining procedures and precautions which you can find here: https://flightchic.com/2014/12/08/as-iata-publishes-lithium-battery-risk-mitigation-guidancefor-airlines-we-share-authorities-guidance-for-passengers/

      Thanks as always for following and for contributing!

      Marisa

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  2. On a general Apple point, I am becoming more disallusioned with the ongoing development and quality of the products. Like you I am on my 4th iPhone and third iPod. Three of my pogo es have ebevtually had hard disc or processor failures and two iPods have hard hard disc failures. My las test iPhone was a first generation iPhone 6 – the bendy ones that break. The screen has been replaced twice and is still faulty. Now out of warranty I now am genuinely considering stopping my reliance on Apple stuff. I write this on my iPad and live the inter connectivity. Whoever, Samsung and others are producing products equal if not better. For all apples coolness and product innovation, like all things, eventually competition steals the game and you become just another player in the market. Apple is no longer seen as the product stable it once was a your battery story highlights this perfectly.

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    1. Thanks Pieter! I completely agree. Apple changed the world and it’s now doing little more than changing costumes. I’ll still buy their products, because I like them, but I’m set with what I have. However, someone needs to fund those alternative batteries and quick. I’d like it very much if Apple took that initiative on because then they would be making a big difference in the world, not just in aviation.

      When these batteries fail, they cause injuries on the ground too. I know the alternative developments are still in their infancy, but prototypes are proven and we made it to the moon in a few years once we had the impetus to do so.

      Besides, the biggest reason is that production of these batteries relies on exploiting children, which I only recently learned this year. That makes correcting this situation very urgent. I’d hate for this status-quo to last affect a generation as alternative proposals perish on the vine.

      I’d like some tech company to take the initiative, but actually what’s happening is the opposite. Elon Musk is cornering the market on Lithium batteries, to make a fortune. Just as with other technologies in the past, whichever one has the greatest financial interests behind it–for better or worse–endures.

      Only one example I’ve found of viable proposals for alternative batteries:

      http://www.asianscientist.com/2015/04/in-the-lab/alternatives-lithium-batteries-sodium-aluminum/

      My reference to child labour in this report from the BBC:

      http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-35311456

      Elon Musks’s $5 Billion Bet on Lithium-Ion batteries:

      http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Teslas-5B-Giga-Battery-Factory-and-Deep-Politics-in-AZ-TX-NV-and-NM

      I think there’s simply not enough awareness, and it’s a tricky thing because we all rely on these devices–regardless of the manufacturer. I’d love to say I’m not using another lithium-powered device, on principle, but then what are the alternatives?

      We need a strong push for alternatives. And it would suit the original Apple brand to take a bold leap forward on this.

      Like

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