Among techies and fans of weird Internet news, it’s become a relatively familiar story: An Australian domestic flight lands in Sydney on Friday. Then a passenger’s iPhone 4 goes wild. There’s “a significant amount of dense smoke, accompanied by a red glow” from the phone, according to a press release from the airline operator, Regional Express.
The passengers and crew all escape unharmed after a flight attendant performs “recovery actions” and the red glow is extinguished. But a significant question remains…what happened?
Also, an even more significant question…could it happen to my iPhone?
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is currently investigating the incident, according to a spokesman for the country’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority. “They have the iPhone and will pull it apart,” the spokesman said.
The safety bureau has so far not responded to requests for comment, but in the meantime, Mashable contacted an Apple hardware expert to gain some insight on just what might have gone wrong.
Aaron Vronko is a service specialist at Rapid Repair, a Michigan business he co-founded to service and modify Apple devices. He’s also a expert on all things iPhone, iPad and iPod.
Vronko said the Australian flight fiasco was most plausibly caused by a combination of a defect in the battery cell with a failure in the phone’s battery-temperature management system. This could have been caused by the phone’s owner playing a 3D game while simultaneously charging the phone.
“Watching a video or playing a high-powered game is where max power use can occur,” Vronko said. “Then batteries have a much higher likelihood of cell failure when charging as opposed to not charging.”
The original iPad introduced a thermistor that would physically disconnect the overheating cell from everything else in the device once the cell reached approximately 130 degrees Fahrenheit, Vronko said.
There have been no known cases of an iPad overheating to the point of producing smoke or an eerie glow, as happened with the iPhone in Australia.
With thermistors being relatively inexpensive, Vronko added, one would assume that Apple had included them in all subsequent devices although he couldn’t say for sure. If the phone that self-combusted in Australia had a thermistor, it likely wouldn’t have needed extinguishing.
Nonetheless, Vronko said, the Australian incident was most likely an isolated — or at least extremely rare — incident.
“I wouldn’t necessarily tell people to change their behavior,” he said. “It was probably just something wrong with that particular cell.”
Apple has so far not responded to Mashable‘s Tuesday request for comment.
What do you think? Was what happened in Australia just a fluke? Or does it make you wary of using your iPhone intensely?