Death in China prompts Apple to offer iPhone charger disposal and discount

Death in China prompts Apple to offer iPhone charger disposal and discount

After Chinese woman's electrocution, Apple launches program to collect counterfeit power adapters

Reacting to reports of at least one death in China linked to a counterfeit power adaptor, Apple on Monday announced a program that discounts authentic replacements by nearly 50%.

Apple's USB Power Adapter Takeback Program will kick off Aug. 16 and run through Oct. 18.

Customers who "have concerns about any ... USB power adapters" may bring them to an Apple retail store or an authorized service provider for disposal, the company said in a document published on its support site.

During the program's two month's, Apple will sell replacement iPhone, iPad and iPod USB adaptors for $10, nearly half off the list price of $19. Customers must bring in at least one adaptor for disposal as well as their mobile device to the Apple or authorized store to be eligible for the discounted replacements.

Apple did not mention a specific incident that prompted the program, saying instead, "Recent reports have suggested that some counterfeit and third party adapters may not be designed properly and could result in safety issues."

But the company was clearly referring to -- and the program a response to -- a pair of accidents, one fatal, in China that have been linked to counterfeit or shoddy power adaptors.

In mid-July, 23-year-old Ma Ailun died after reportedly touching her iPhone while it was charging. Apple quickly offered its condolences to Ailun's family via a statement and pledged to look into the incident.

Several days later, reports in Chinese media, including the Communist government's official news agency, said a Beijing man had been hospitalized and was in a coma after using a third-party power iPhone adaptor.

Within a week, Apple posted an illustrated guide that showed Chinese customers how to identify genuine Apple chargers.

Apple's fast response to Ailun's death and Monday's replacement program were signs of its sensitivity to the Chinese market, where sales have tumbled and public relations headaches have dogged the company.

In the most recently-reported quarter, which ended June 30, the sales region Apple defines as "Greater China" -- the People's Republic of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong -- generated $4.6 billion in revenue, or about 13% of the company's total.

That was down 43% from the previous quarter, when Apple booked $8.2 billion in Greater China, and off 14% from the same period in 2012, when the region's sale totaled $5.4 billion.

In a call with Wall Street analysts last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook attributed the slowdown in China to the country's faltering economy.

Industry analysts agreed to some extent. "The situation in China is largely due to the economic conditions, but not completely," said Van Baker of Gartner in an interview last month. Baker also cited increased competition from lower-priced Android smartphones and tablets for Apple's sales problems.

And Apple has had ongoing public relations problems in China, most recently charges last month of labor abuses by one of its primary suppliers. This spring, state-backed media accused the American company of providing Chinese customers sub-standard iPhone warranty services. In April, CEO Tim Cook publicly apologized -- a very rare move by Apple -- for the policies and said that the company would change them to meet local demands.

The USB Power Adapter Takeback Program is not limited to China; it is available to all Apple's customers.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is

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