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Apple iPhone XS Max allegedly explodes in Ohio man's pocket

Front of exploded iPhone XS Max (credit: Josh Hillard and iDrop News)

The first public account of the battery catastrophically failing in an iPhone XS Max has surfaced, and may result in legal action after Apple refused to replace the device for free when the owner wanted to retain the destroyed device.

A three-week-old iPhone XS Max reportedly caught fire and exploded while in the pocket of an Ohio resident on December 12. A man who identified as Josh Hillard, said that he was at lunch at 3:00 p.m. when he noticed a smell and felt a "large amount of heat" and then green and yellow smoke coming from his iPhone XS Max.

"A VP of our company put the fire out with a fire extinguisher because he heard me yelling," Hillard told iDrop News. "Once the phone was extinguished, I was left with a hole in my pants, fire extinguisher on my pants/shoes, and some pain/irritation in my buttocks region where the pocket of my pants was located."

Rear of exploded iPhone XS Max (credit: Josh Hillard and iDrop News)
Rear of exploded iPhone XS Max (credit: Josh Hillard and iDrop News)

Hillard says he later took the damaged phone to an Apple Store. While the Store apparently offered him a replacement phone, he refused it unless he could also keep the damaged one. He then contacted the Apple Care support line and after providing photographs of the damage, reports that an Apple safety department supervisor "essentially offered a new phone."

Hillard says that this is insufficient, and he also wants Apple to reimburse him for his damaged pants plus the cost of his cell plan while he was unable to use the phone. The man is also reportedly considering what legal options are available regarding the incident.

It isn't clear why the battery ruptured and spewed flammable electrolyte. A battery membrane is designed to swell instead of rupturing in the case of a cell failure, and most swellings and ruptures happen under a runaway thermal condition while the device is being charged. Based on the account, given that it was in the man's pocket, it seems unlikely that it was charging.

One likely scenario is that the device bent while in the man's back pocket given that the cited pain and irritation was in the "buttocks region." This bend, if profound enough, can pierce the battery membrane resulting in what the man described. Another possibility is a failure of the cell for other reasons, such as a manufacturing problem not caught by quality assurance.

In reviewing AppleInsider's collated service data, there are no incidents of iPhone XS Max catastrophic battery failures. Given that our sample is not the entire set of Apple's repairs, plus the rarity of a battery rupture, it is possible that there have been other failures in such a manner — but this is the first public account.

Apple has not yet commented on the incident but the description of green and yellow smoke is consistent with a battery having been broken. In February 2018, two Hong Kong Apple Store employees were hospitalized after inhaling smoke from an iPhone battery during a repair.