Apple is ‘looking into’ why some iPhone 8 batteries are swelling

Apple appears to have an iPhone 8 battery problem on its hands, and it is not clear yet whether it’s occurring in just a small number of edge cases or at a larger batch of phones.

Over the last week, reports have been coming out about iPhone 8s that have broken apart either on arrival or after a few days of usage. What seems to be happening is that the battery inside the phone is swelling, bending the front of the telephone and separating it from the body of the device. So far, there have not been any fires — just ruined phones.

Apple has a brief statement on the matter: “We are aware and looking into it.”

The first report came from Taiwan, where a woman is said to have found her iPhone swollen apart after plugging it in to charge. Someone in Japan then posted photos of a split-apart phone on Twitter. And in the days since, there have been cases in China, Canada, and Greece.

There seem to be only six or so reports so far — certainly less than a dozen that’s been publicly identified — so the issue appears to be rather small compared to the millions of phones that Apple has probably already sold. In any manufacturing run that big, there will be occasional issues, so on some level seeing a few broken iPhones is anticipated.

But following Samsung’s Note 7 failure, there’s reason to be concerned about what is happening here — especially since it’s a battery issue. Batteries should not be swelling in any number, and it’s not clear exactly what the half-dozen iPhones that are having this problem have in common. While it is apparently rare, there’s obviously good reason to wish to know what’s happening.

“[Swelling is] very uncommon for a brand-new battery and contributes toward the direction of there’s something fundamentally wrong with this battery,” says Sam Jaffe, managing director of Cairn Energy Research Advisors, in a phone call with The Verge. Jaffe, a battery industry analyst, says producers have reached a limit with lithium-ion battery capacity and might wind up producing layouts with a bigger chance of short-circuiting in an effort to save more power.

For now, he says, it’s too early to know what’s happening with Apple’s mobiles. “It could be just a random distribution,” he says. “Only a random event, and it’s only a few.”

Jaffe supposes Apple’s executives are “in crisis mode” over the possible harm that battery issues could cause. But while we have seen a few bloated batteries already, he says, it does not mean the problem will necessarily elevate to a Note 7-style crisis with mobiles beginning to create smoke.

“Swelling is always a precursor whenever there is a battery fire, but the percentage of actual fires are pretty rare,” Jaffe says. “From the Galaxy Note case, there were probably a couple hundred battery failures of one sort or another, but there were just a small number of fires — so that gives you a feeling of the proportion of actual fires.”