In what appears to be a rare catastrophic Apple hardware failure, a Tampa, Fla., man's AirPods "blew up" during a recent gym workout, prompting Apple to investigate the matter.
Jason Colon was listening to his AirPods at the local LA Fitness club in St. Petersburg when white smoke began to billow out from the right unit's chassis, reports NBC affiliate WFLA.
Colon promptly removed the AirPods, placed them on a nearby bench and went to get help. When he returned, the right AirPod had "popped" open, leaving pieces strewn across the workout equipment.
"It's the craziest thing I ever went through," Colon said. "It was already popped. I didn't see it happen, but I mean, it was already fried. You can see flame damage."
While details surrounding the event are scarce, the "flame damage" Colon describes is likely residue from — or the after effects of — a runaway chemical reaction originating in the device's battery cell.
Colon's description is consistent with a thermal runaway or similar event in which an electronic's batteries fail, overheat and damage nearby components. In the case of mobile devices, which pack a large number of parts into a tightly confined space, these incidents sometimes lead to case ruptures.
What caused the failure is at this point unknown, but Apple told the news organization that it is investigating the matter and will contact Colon in the near future.
Other manufacturers, namely Samsung, have dealt with similar problems in the recent past, but Apple products are typically not prone to such failures. Due to its mode of operation (in a user's ear), unstable AirPods pose a particularly nasty threat to users if the problem is widespread. Fortunately, Colon's experience seems to be an outlier, as no other AirPods owners have reported malfunctions of this magnitude since the product launched in 2016.
Apple has, however, been dealing with iPhone battery fires at its retail stores. In January, an iPhone explosion forced the evacuation of an Apple store in Zurich, while a second small blaze prompted the evacuation of another outlet in Spain.
Though the company has not commented, both of the affected iPhone units were in for repair, suggesting a correlation with Apple's recent decision to cut prices of out-of-warranty battery replacements. With more customers bringing in their old, potentially degraded, iPhones for service increases the odds of accidents. The possibility of failure is only increased when mixing in lithium-ion batteries.