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Report: Third-party chargers may damage components in iPhone 5

updated 10:36 pm EDT, Thu June 19, 2014

UK repair company says unofficial USB-to-Lightning adapters may burn out crucial circuit

Reports of iPhone 5 units with charging issues has lead a UK repair shop to note that unauthorized third-party charging accessories used with the iPhone 5 (and possibly other Lightning-equipped iPhones) may be causing damage to the iPhone itself, specifically by burning out a specific power-management integrated circuit (IC) labelled "U2." The circuit helps flow power to the battery and charging circuitry and also controls some USB functions as well as sends power to the sleep/wake button.

The problem does not seem to be caused by certified "Made For i" (MFi) accessories, reports the firm called "mendmyi," but rather by "knock off" and counterfeit versions often produced in China and Taiwan, reports iMore. Illicit chargers in those countries have killed or electrocuted several iPhone users, which prompted Apple to offer free replacements to customers in the region who brought in a counterfeit charger. The iPhone maker has also recalled its own European five-watt chargers over safety defects.

A fake Lightning charge cable that burned out
A fake Lightning charge cable that burned out


Unofficial USB adapters and USB-to-Lightning cables appear to be the issue. They tend not to sufficiently regulate electrical current, causing the IC chip in the iPhone 5 to burn out. Some owners have reported similar problems with uncertified chargers and the iPhone 5c as well.

When this happens, it causes iPhones to be unable to charge the battery past one percent, and may also prompt failures to turn on even when connected to a power source, or unexpected shutdowns. Bloggers have documented that most of the cheaper chargers offered outside the "MFi" program bypass important safety components in order to keep the cost down.

"The cause of this component becoming faulty is really quite simple -- third party chargers and USB leads," Mendmyi said in a statement. "The original Apple chargers and USB leads regulate the voltage and current to a level that protects your valuable iPhone and prevents it from damage. Charging your iPhone using a third party charger or USB lead that does not regulate this as much allows for larger variables in voltage and current, this then damages the U2 IC and can leave you with a seemingly dead iPhone 5."

The company reporting the issue says it can fix the problem by replacing the IC, but it costs about $112 US (£66) to repair. The firm recommends people use the original charger and cables (or MFi alternatives) to avoid the issue.



By Electronista Staff
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Comments

  1. macjockey

    Junior Member

    Joined: 06-23-04

    I wonder how much Apple paid this place to say this?

  1. climacs

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 09-06-01

    probably nothing, macjockey. This is what happens when you buy cheap Chinese crap and use it with your highly-engineered electronics.

  1. Makosuke

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 08-06-01

    macjockey--people underestimate the damage that can be done by a poor power supply. This is partly because most DC devices have tended to be fairly tolerant of poorly-controlled voltage, since in the old days DC bricks were usually unregulated (meaning that when not under load they could have voltage substantially higher than the nameplate rating) and they were often designed for batteries, which also run over a wide range of voltages above and below the nominal rating.

    Even then, however, a really cheap power supply could be much farther out of spec relative to the nominal rating, which is why more expensive stuff often shipped with more expensive bricks.

    The iPhone and (probably more importantly) the chips in the lightning cable (since it's not just wires) apparently aren't so tolerant. Could be space constraints (there's not a lot of room for a substantial voltage regulator in that microscopic lightning connector, and the iPhone itself is pretty darned small), or you could argue that it's poor design, but if you look at some of the actual analyses good 5V adapters are far cleaner and more stable than cheap ones, and Apple's are particularly good--remarkably so.

    So it would appear that Apple either knows about this weakness and certifies adapters accordingly, or they just design within the constraints of their own adapter program, and if a piece of crap 5V brick is wildly out of spec they didn't design for it.

    Note here that this article is not implying that a 5V brick that runs at 5.5V (or even 6V) is a problem--only that it is definitely possible for cheesy adapters (I assume they're talking about the $3 shipped Apple look-alikes that are dangerously badly designed if you crack them open--look it up elsewhere) to fry stuff if they're bad enough.

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