Is it safe to use cheap iPad and iPhone chargers that aren't made by Apple? After three people were injured in East Asia by malfunctioning chargers (two of whom died) and another suffered burns in England, iPhone/iPad charger safety is a hot topic. Here's our best advice on the safety of low-cost, imitation, third-party and even knockoff and counterfeit chargers for the iPhone and iPad. Updated 28 November 2013
After an investigation into the safety of iPad and iPhone chargers, Apple in August announced a third-party power adapter trade-in program that allowed iPhone, iPad or iPod owners to trade their third-party USB power adapter for an official one at a reduced cost. This trade-in program ended on 18 October, but not everyone with a third-party adapter will have taken advantage of the offer.
It appears that Apple has also built some safety features into iOS 7, its new mobile operating system. Some users have reported that they've been seeing a message that reads: "This cable or accessory is not certified and may not work reliably with this iPhone," when they've plugged their phone in to a counterfiet charger.
Update: On 27 November, Thai language publicatio
n Daily News Thailand reported that a 28-year-old man from Thailand who has died after being electrocuted by an iPhone 4S connected to a knockoff third-party charger.
Police say that they found the man - who is currently unnamed - lying on the floor of his home holding a charred iPhone 4S. According to the father of the victim, the man had been laying on the iPhone while it was charging, perhaps making a call, when he died.
It's the latest in a small but concerning series of incidents involving overheating or exploding chargers for electrical devices, several of them designed for Apple products.
In September, The Daily Mail reported that a man in Cheshire had suffered burnt fingers, and was thrown across the room, when his daughter's iPad charger exploded in his hand and gave him an electical shock. Understandably, the man - Tim Gillooley, from Widnes - is fearful of letting his 8-year-old child use her Apple devices in future, and believes she would have been killed.
After malfunctioning iPad/iPhone charger incidents in China left one dead and the other in a coma, indeed, Apple has added a page to its Chinese website advising iPhone and iPad users to use genuine, Apple-branded chargers.
Both of the Chinese people were electrocuted while charging their iPhones, and in both cases it has been reported that they were using unofficial/non-Apple charging units. (To its credit, Apple didn't raise this possibility in its statement following the death, and hasn't explicitly made that connection on the new web page.)
The first incident in particular has been reported as involving a counterfeit charger designed to look like an Apple product.
Are unofficial/non-Apple iPhone chargers safe?
China has a thriving market for counterfeit tech products, and Apple is the biggest target of all: even Apple Stores have been faked. But because counterfeit products are unregulated, quality and safety standards can be a problem. Hence Apple's decision to help customers tell the genuine articles from the fake. (Although ironically, these detailed guides may well help counterfeiters imitate the visual design of Apple products more closely.)
More generally, the Chinese market is comparatively unregulated by the standards of Western markets, and third-party chargers built according to local standards of quality control may be less reliable than those that use Apple's original specifications.
We wouldn't recommend buying such potentially dangerous items as electrical chargers from local Chinese companies, simply because the regulations aren't in place to guarantee their safety. We don't mean that as a slight on the quality of manufacturing in the Far East, which of course is where Apple's official products are made too, but the products made there for Western vendors are simply built to meet stricter regulations at the sales end.
With third-party chargers built by or for Western companies, therefore, safety is less of an concern: UK third-party tech parties that sell accessories and chargers for Apple products are subject to the same regulations as Apple itself. We would simply recommend choosing a third-party vendor with a solid reputation: check online for expert reviews and user reports, just as you would with any important tech purchase. It's particularly important to get quality in this case, since safety is of paramount importance.
Is it worth saving money on non-Apple chargers?
That's a decision you need to weigh up for yourself, but the savings are unlikely to be significant. Is it worth taking risks on potentially dangerous items for a £10 or £15 saving? The biggest danger is with counterfeit products – we would never buy an 'official iPad charger' from a man on the street, and trust that most other people wouldn't either.
There are plenty of reputable companies that make accessories for Apple products (you'll see some names on Apple's own online store, or you can check reviews on a site like ours) and as long as you go with one of them you should be fine.
Official chargers can be dangerous too
One last word, which we don't intend to be scary but may be worth bearing in mind: just because a charger has been built or sold by a reputable company - even including Apple - that doesn't mean there is no danger whatsoever. There is always a tiny chance of a manufacturing or human error, or an unanticipated problem. Apple's own devices have been known (on extremely rare occasions) to overheat to dangerous levels, and it recalled millions of iPhone 3G power adaptors back in 2008 because they were thoughts to pose a shock hazard.
In other words, don't take safety issues for granted when you're dealing with even high-quality electrical goods: keep an eye out for wear and tear or suspicious behaviour (sparks, excessive heat). And don't let your kids handle chargers, of course.