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Apple probes iPhone 5-related death in China

Investigating report of woman killed when she answered her iPhone while it was charging

July 15, 2013 12:56 PM ET

Computerworld - Apple promised to investigate a report that a young Chinese woman was electrocuted when she answered her iPhone 5 while it was plugged into its charger, according to Reuters.

In an email sent to the news service, Apple said it was "deeply saddened" by the accident, offered its condolences to the 23-year-old Ma Ailun's family and pledged to look into the incident.

"We will fully investigate and cooperate with authorities in this matter," Apple told Reuters.

Apple did not immediately reply to a request for confirmation of its statement to Reuters.

According to a Sunday report by the Xinhau News Agency, the Chinese government's official press arm, Ma's sister turned to Sina Weibo, China's most popular micro-blogging service, to claim that Ma was electrocuted while trying to answer a call on her iPhone when the device was connected to its charger.

"(I) hope that Apple Inc. can give us an explanation," Ma's sister wrote, said Xinhau. "I also hope that all of you will refrain from using your mobile devices while charging."

Local police confirmed to Xinhau that Ma was electrocuted, but had not verified that her phone was involved.

Apple had problems with iPhone chargers five years ago, when in September 2008 it exchanged USB power adapters after fielding reports of electrical shocks. "We have received reports of detached blades involving a very small percentage of the adapters sold, but no injuries have been reported," Apple said at the time in a support document announcing the exchange program.

Other, isolated incidents have been reported over the years of iPhones catching fire while recharging.

Apple has also had public relations tribulations in China, most recently this spring when state-backed media lambasted the American company for allegedly providing Chinese customers sub-standard iPhone warranty services. In April, CEO Tim Cook publicly apologized -- a very rare occurrence -- for the policies and said that the company would change them to meet local demands.

Apple's acknowledgement of the electrocution was unusual in itself: The company rarely comments on reported hardware problems, preferring instead to deliver a fix at some later date without linking the update to a specific complaint.

The company's willingness to talk about Ma's death and its fast move to investigate may be traced to Apple's belief that China is a crucial market, as well as the problems it's had in maintaining its position in the country's consumer electronics market. In the most recently-reported quarter, the sales region Apple defines a "Greater China," which includes the People's Republic of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, generated $8.2 billion in revenue, or about 19% of the total for the firm.

This article, Apple probes iPhone 5-related death in China, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed Keizer RSS. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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