Smartphones exploding, or / also catching fire, are the digital device equivalents of a spontaneous human combustion. Maybe this is the same effect when you invoke salamander elementals of fire through some weird occult app, if that’s even possible. But both have been the experiences of many unsuspecting smartphone and device owners, randomly picked by destiny and wrong timing, and maybe careless use?
Each victim has their own version of what went wrong: overheating, battery destruction, power charger mishaps, and other weird accidents. That is, if they live to tell the tale. If they did, telltale marks left still wouldn’t fully explain how it happened to them and not anyone else doing the same things.
Deemed as Deadly Devices?
The recent Samsung Galaxy 7 recall was a serious setback that cost money and reputation for the Korean smartphone powerhouse. But this is just one of the latest issues that have been overblown in public. Though not as often, still there have been many documented cases of devices seriously harming and killing their owners over the past few years.
The main causes have been pointed to three main elements: excessive heat and build-up, battery issues, and charger / power related issues. Common scenarios: phone left charging, phone used while charging, charger blew up, battery blew up, phone went in flames, phone got so hot it scorched the user who was a. sleeping, b. using it c. in unused state in the bag or pocket.
How can these devices be important and potentially harmful, be also lethal? Smartphones and phablets have been linked to many bad effects: loss of personal contact, super tech addiction, and yes, even lethal to well, semi-lethal normal use, all with disastrous results; Emphasis on the third one which can actually kill the easiest.
There are many reasons for a phone overheating. But not scorching hot level like a hot iron. But it always catches owners off guard when it bursts into flames or burns the listener at unexpected times, such as when sleeping close to their phone or when they’re using it, or when its snugly fit in their pockets or bags.
Top reasons for an overheated phone include several processes and apps (also hidden apps and functions) all generating high temperature activity and power struggle. There’s also the battery element, the charger element, and reactions that happen within, or a combination of both.
Then there are the horror stories of phones used near gas stations or where there are gas fumes and other flammables. While there are unconfirmed reports from both the safe and the unsafe sides, we also can’t deny cases of full spontaneous smartphone combustion from these situations. This element is from overly high levels of radiation, enough to spark up the device. And when there’s gas fumes to immediately fuel the fire…
The common Lithium Ion battery of a mobile device can also be a weapon – just ask IED makers pro and non-pro all over the world, and those who hunt and stop them. We do not condone DIY explosives, but just having one in a faulty phone can instantly create you one set to go off in that one key moment.
Chances are, a cheap mobile phone knockoff or even a classic Nokia 3310 battery can be used or had. Bad batteries can cause serious damage, and has the same surprise element from phones going up in flames or overheating, but this one has even less telltale signs, and more disastrous results.
But we digress; there are other serious causes that could happen, and happen at the least expected moments. Others can be in semi-obvious cases (using while charging, defective, leaking, or damaged batteries and nearby parts). It is crucially important to make sure batteries are in their peak health and top condition, and have no damage, no matter how small.
Time Magazine queried Dr. Donald R. Sadoway, the John F. Elliott Professor of Materials Chemistry at the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), to get a clearer look at the spontaneous device combustion via battery. He offered causal explanations for this common battery banger.
The proposed theoretical cause happens inside, with all needed elements in place. One main cause could be metal fragments trapped in the electrolyte somewhere during production, which could have formed a link inside through passing currents of electricity. With all the fuel inside available, a mere spark will set it off.
All it takes is to reach a certain level of heat inside the battery compartment, say 400-500 C°, which is possible in some situations. This is where it gets dangerous, as the metal oxide components start oxidising, releasing oxygen within the battery. The combination of activities can mean instant fire and explosions possible.
Charge a battery, and then use it while charging, this then creates opportunities for an accident to occur. The heat generated will be substantial, from the app or function to be used, plus any other functions, apps, and programs currently happening in the phone.
All Things Power
Chargers in general can be a lifesaver, or something that actually endangers your life, depending on how people see them, and use them. It can be an original branded accessory or a well-made knock off, but one in a number of these possible time bombs can wreak serious havoc just by using them, and / or using them wrong. Especially when just about using them, and using the phone connected and being charged, such as playing a game, answering a call, or even sending a quick SMS text message.
There is a similarity to the battery cause. We can even say that chargers and batteries usually form the most “common accidents waiting to happen”. But chargers, especially knock off copies may have the elements within them to start serious damage, provided that you pair them with the perfect moment.
We then have the strange territory of smartphone and device use mishaps that can’t be explained. While they may have elements from all three factors or a combination of them, we surely can’t pinpoint the main reason, but rather infer to the possible cause.
Electrocutions and explosions while listening on headphones, sudden explosions and going up in flames in normal situations, and some of these may be listed under subcategories of the aforementioned mishaps above, but the circumstances may be a little less common.
There have been deaths from accidents but from using the phone while being absent minded about the state of the phone, the immediate surroundings, or maybe perhaps reality (such as cars and people). But it’s more human stupidity and carelessness sometimes, than anything else.
The phone itself causing the accident or death is another thing. We have yet to determine some of these, and although a combination of earlier factors may play a role, it is still up in the air how a trigger or catalyst would have been present to determine the real cause.