Last week on my daily commute to work it was one of those days where I was running on time, the sun was out, music playing, you could say things were pretty smooth sailing. It was like that scene, you know the one, that scene from the Truman Show where Truman, after the heavy storm, finally sets to sailing smooth. He looks up at what he believes to be the perfect blue sky, closes his eyes and as if breathing in the warm air from the sun’s rays he for the first time feels hope, peace and gratitude for his life. Thing is, the sun was fake, and so was the sky. Reality punched him in the face when the front of his yaught pierced through the painted wall that was the movie set he had been living in his entire life. In an instant, the mask that was utopia was ripped from his eyes, unveiling the lie he had been living all these years.

Welcome to my experience with apple.

I was an avid BlackBerry user, I swore by them. The tactile touch of the physical keyboard is like no other device. The look, feel, functionality, and security, let’s not forget that, was unparalleled for me. Then BlackBerry scaled back, market share dropped and devices emerged with more screen and less keyboard. It was time for a switch.

Everyone told me to buy apple. As a huge BlackBerry fan that was the last device I wanted to migrate to. But I did and quite suprisingly after a little adjustment I was hooked, and, quite quickly became deep in the apple ecosystem. A MacBook Pro was my daily laptop, I watched Game of Thrones on Apple TV, when I needed some sleek portability I grabbed my iPad and if I needed to run on time, I could rely on my Apple Watch. My iPhone seemlysely buzzed my wrist to conviniently hint I could take a call like Maxwell Smart if my hands were full. The ecosystem all just worked, together, nicely.

Back to that sunny morning while I was driving; Somewhere between the first and second track of my YouTube playlist I noticed something pop out from my wrist from the corner of my eye, instantly distracting me from the peak hour traffic I was driving through. Looking down I couldn’t believe my eyes. About as fast as the savings account disappeared when I spent money on the device, its ability to live up to its reputation disappeared too. Like a jack-in-the-box the screen just bounced back and forth, dangling there on the ribbon cable that still remained attached to the gold case that was once it’s home. My heart sank.

Exploded apple watch

Arriving to work I opened up Twitter, @apple, and sent this picture. They almost immediately wrote back asking me to send them a DM so we could sort the issue out.

My conversation with apple support began. Any damage? Nope. Cracks in the casing? No. Screen damaged? No, it’s all in perfectly good condition.

You see, here’s the thing– just like we tech lovers value the experience that is unboxing, I too take pride in keeping my devices in good condition, so much so I retain all the original packaging, heck, I even have the retail shopping bag the Apple Watch box was placed in when I handed over my hard earned $500 at the Apple store.

Apple Support was nice. They hooked me up with a number of options for the closest store that could advise one on what we can do next. I drove one hour to the Penrith Apple Store for a perfectly timed 10:20am Sunday appointment with a technician. I arrived at the store, a little less busy than I’d expect considering the new iPhone 11 launch was now upon us. This is how that visit played out;

Apple: I see the battery is swollen. A swollen battery is what pushed your screen out. Lithium ion batteries are designed to swell up at end of life, the gases build up in them and they swell. That’s what pushed your screen out. Our devices are designed such that we can’t replace components, so we can’t actually replace the battery. Let’s see what we can do for you. Says here you got the device in 2016? Unfortunately you’re not covered by our warranty. Let’s see what we can do. So we are unable to service devices here in store, what we are able to do for you is send the device away, we will replace it for a like device, not exactly a new one but a like device from different parts, that will cost you $119.

I’ll never forget this one time when I was probably around eight years old; one of my uncle’s decided to take all the neices and nephews to the park to play, he turned to me, looked me dead in the eyes and said “you’re not coming!”. I mean sure, I may have been mischievous, but all the other kids were too, but they didn’t miss out?! He proceed to walk them to the park. I sat left behind, crying and alone in the backyard while my cousins and siblings went off to play.

You get the picture.

I’ve worked in highly regulated environments for years now so I can identify a real safety hazard when I see one. In fact, I’ve run through literally hundered and hundreds of risk assessments, evaluating safety hazards, so risk evaluation is not foreign. And when you couple that experience with a scientist, you get someone who is willing to ask some much needed questions. Let’s run through this again;

I was driving, a motor vehicle, peak hour traffic, and without warning, a Li-ion battery inside my Apple Watch swelled up due to gases, forcing the screen off my watch to explode open, potentially distracting me from the road that laid before me.

A simple Google search around Li-ion battery swelling leads us to this very simple explanation (and I quote);

Don’t charge or use it at all, because lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries that are bulging have already bypassed built-in safeguards and are swollen with gases. Continued charging or use could lead to a runaway reaction that results in a fire or an explosion. Source: macworld.com

Here’s the strange thing — when I visited the apple store to attend the appointment they scheduled for me the guy who was assigned to assist me didn’t even hide the fact that the fault was caused by a swollen Li-ion battery, in fact, he even explained that the swelling was due to gas build up. The technician went on to explain that this was actually “part of the design” such that as the battery reaches end of life it is designed to ‘swell up’. I guess by that statement it must be designed to swell up while you wear it on your wrist, so much so that it pushes the front of the device open, forcing the screen to rupture wide open off the device. Surely this doesn’t happen to all Apple Watches right?

So let’s piece this all together. My apple watch ruptures while I was wearing it on my wrist, I attend the apple store, they advise me it’s due to a swollen battery (but try to convince me it was designed to do that and it’s not a safety risk), I explain that it’s a safety concern, that I was wearing it while it happened, not to mention while I was driving and their response is — please pay us $119 and we will fix it for you.

What the actual?

As a consumer, we ought to be able to buy devices that are functional, and, most importantly, safe. It would seem apparent that the apple watch, with its known failure mode is potentially unsafe, in my experience.

We also have the right to purchase products that do what they say they do, for a reasonable period of time proportional to the cost of goods. Clearly at $500 this device ought to last longer than 3 years, or atleast fail safer when it reaches end of life.

The apple store let down the consumer that day. When I questioned its safety the technician looked at me as though I had two choices; pay the $119 or leave with a faulty watch. I felt dissapointed and undervalued as a customer. And quite frankly, stupid. Stupid that I bought into the apple ecosystem. Stupid having to hear someone talk me down on a real safety issue. Had they have admitted to the fact that the device was considered faulty, and that the issue was certainly a safety risk, well, we wouldn’t be having this conversation now would we, apple?

I just wanted the device repaired, and considering I invested a reasonable amount of money into it, I certainly don’t think I should be asked to pay the replacement cost that I was ‘offerred’. Apple let me walk out of the Penrith Apple store that day with a faulty and swollen device.

I contacted apple again after leaving the store with both dissaplointment and a faulty watch and was put onto a Senior Representative. I explained my experience, reiterating the safety aspects. He said he’d try and work on my case more. Three hours later I received a call back explaining basically the same thing, pay the $119 and I’ll get a like-for-like device.

Right now I have a 42mm gold apple watch sitting on my shelf with a swollen Li-ion battery, exposed, while the screen hangs off by nothing else but the ribbon cable.

Am I missing something here, apple?

Apple, make it right.

Ivan.

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