Federal lawsuit claims Apple's iPad overheats in minutes

Shuts down in direct sunlight, allege irked owners in complaint seeking class-action status

Apple was sued last week over claims that its iPad easily overheats, then suddenly switches itself off.

In a complaint filed with an Oakland, Calif. federal court last Friday, a trio of plaintiffs accused Apple of everything from fraud and deceptive advertising to violations of California's consumer protection and unfair business practices laws by making, marketing and selling allegedly defective tablets.

"The iPad does not live up to the reasonable consumer's expectations created by Apple insofar as the iPad overheats so quickly under common weather conditions that it does not function for prolonged use outdoors, or in many other warm conditions," the complaint read.

The three plaintiffs -- Jacob Balthazar, Claudia Keller and John Browning -- said that they were duped into buying a defective device by Apple's claim that "reading on iPad is just like reading a book."

That's not accurate, they alleged in their lawsuit, which also asked a federal judge to grant the case class-action status.

"Using the iPad is not 'just like reading a book' at all since books do not close when the reader is enjoying them in the sunlight or in other normal environmental conditions," the complaint stated. "This promise, like other portions of Apple's marketing material for the iPad, is false."

Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in January 2010 to much fanfare, and his company started shipping the tablet to consumers in early April. Last week, executives said that Apple had sold nearly 3.3 million iPads in the year's second quarter, generating almost $2.2 billion in revenues.

When he debuted the iPad, Jobs called the tablet "magical and revolutionary," and compared the device's e-reading capabilities to Amazon's Kindle.

According to the class complaint, the iPad unexpectedly shuts down in warm weather or when it's in direct sunlight.

"Nowhere ... does Apple mention that the iPad is virtually unusable when sitting in particular environmental conditions (e.g. in direct sunlight in connection with virtually any ambient air temperature) since it turns off, sometimes after just a few minutes of use," the lawsuit claimed.

The suit also took a shot at what the plaintiffs' said was Apple's typical way of doing business.

"Defendant has clearly established a policy of accepting a certain amount of collateral damage, as represented by the damages to the Representative Plaintiffs ... as incidental to its business operations, rather than accept the alternative costs of full compliance with fair, lawful and honest business practices," the lawsuit stated.

Reports of iPads overheating are not new. Within hours of its April 3 launch, users complained that the iPad shut down after being in the sun.

"After about 10 minutes in the sun, my iPad overheated!," said Elliot Kroo in an April 3 message on Twitter. Kroo also posted a screenshot of the ensuing warning that read, "iPad needs to cool down before you can use it."

iPad owners have also groused about overheating on Apple's support forum.

"I guess you are not suppose[d] to take it to the beach to read your iBook in the direct sunlight, looks like I will have to take my nook instead!" noted a user identified as "mickey3244" in a June 25 message when he reported his iPad shut down after 20 minutes in the sun.

Other users advised complainers to keep their iPads in the shade. "Of course the iPad will heat up if it's in direct sunlight for a period of time -- seems like common sense to me," commented "scullymulder" on a different thread. "Avoid keeping it in direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time and you'll be fine."

Balthazar, Keller and Browning have asked for compensatory and punitive damages, the amounts to be decided at trial.

Apple did not reply to a request for comment on the class-action lawsuit.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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