We all love cheap stuff, but it's an incredibly bad idea to buy a cheap charger for your phone, digital camera, or other gadget. And unfortunately, it's incredibly easy to buy these online, even from sites like Amazon, who often mistakenly sell the products as genuine.
Image: Jose Fonseca/Flickr
As uncovered by Patently Apple, Apple has sued Mobile Star LLC, a company that sells what it claims are real iPhone and iPad chargers, because it turns out, those chargers are counterfeit. This is bad stuff.
Most of the time, it can be easy to pick out a fake charger. In addition to selling for prices far lower than usual, these chargers are often made by companies you've never heard of and are "fulfilled" by Amazon, rather than being sold by the retailer directly.
That's part of what makes this Mobile Star case so bad. The Amazon listings used official Apple product images, were sold directly from Amazon (so, NOT a third-party partner), and Apple's name was listed as the manufacturer.
Image: Patently Apple
As a result, the only tip-off that something might be shady is the price. Apple sells its chargers for around $30 while many counterfeits sell for under $20.
Apple ordered 100 of these cables from Amazon and found that more than 90 per cent of them were fake.
Apple writes in the lawsuit:
Counterfeit power products, such as those supplied by Mobile Star, pose an immediate threat to consumer safety because, unlike genuine Apple products, they are not subjected to industry-standard consumer safety testing and are poorly constructed with inferior or missing components, flawed design, and inadequate electrical insulation. These counterfeits have the potential to overheat, catch fire, and deliver a deadly electric shock to consumers while in normal use. A white paper recently published by the consumer product safety and testing organisation UL (formerly Underwriters Laboratories) reported that counterfeit Apple charging products often "lack the safety features necessary to protects users from shock and fire hazards," and UL tested twelve counterfeit Apple power adapters that "were so poorly designed and constructed that they posed a risk of lethal electrocution to the user."
If we've learned anything from the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 debacle, it's that you don't want to mess around with the batteries on your gadgets. As Gizmodo's Alex Cranz explained last month, lithium batteries are basically just "a mess of very flammable chemicals smooshed together and exposed to an electrical charge via electrodes."
The charging process itself is also fairly delicate. That's why the UL and other groups have strict regulations about what kind of voltage output needs to exist, how insulated the chargers are, and how the circuits are designed to keep energy flowing the right way. Junky off-brand chargers don't adhere to any of those standards, putting already unstable lithium batteries at greater risk for fire or combustion.
And it's not just phones. Camera manufacturer Canon has launched a crusade against counterfeit batteries and other gear, because those fake batteries are unsafe. And when you're talking about a product used by holding it up to your face, you don't want a risk of the battery exploding inside the device.
Yes, sometimes $50 for a power brick can seem like a lot of money. But this is really the one area where you should buy directly from the manufacturer (or at the very least, a UL certified third-party like Belkin). It's just not worth taking the risks of fire, ruining your gadget, or worse.