What Apple’s History of Adapter Recalls Means for Its Next Products

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

Today, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) announced a replacement program for a European model of its iPhone USB adapters sold in thirty-seven countries. The adapter can overheat and pose a safety risk, and was shipped with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and iPhone 4s models between October 2009 and September 2012. Customers who bought the affected adapters, marked “Model A1300,” either with an iPhone or separately, can take the adapter to an Apple store or authorized Service Provider for replacement. Customers who have already paid for a replacement due to the issue can contact Apple for a refund.

As 9to5Mac points out, Apple offered to replace another set of USB adapters for the iPhone last year — but those adapters were developed by a variety of third-party manufacturers for the iPhone, iPod, and iPad, and were not official Apple adapters. When they were found to be unsafe, Apple announced a replacement program, noting that safety was the company’s “top priority”:

“Customer safety is a priority at Apple. That’s why all of our products — including USB adapters for iPhone, iPad, and iPod — undergo rigorous testing for safety and reliability and are designed to meet government safety standards around the world.”

During the 2013 replacement program, Apple offered customers who had purchased one of the third-party adapters the option to replace it with an official Apple adapter for $10. And as with the replacement program that Apple announced today, customers seeking a replacement needed to have their iPhone’s serial number verified by Apple or an authorized provider to receive a new adapter.

It’s worth noting that the program Apple announced today isn’t the first time that the company has replaced its own power adapters due to safety concerns. In 2008, Apple recalled the Ultracompact USB Power Adapter supplied with the iPhone 3G because its prongs could break off and remain in a power outlet, causing the risk of electric shock. Those adapters were sold in the U.S., Japan, Canada, Mexico, and a number of Latin American countries, and Apple’s official notice of its replacement program carried the same assertion that “customer safety is always Apple’s top priority.” (And it’s a safe bet that Apple will put some extra work into making good on that twice-questioned promise for the next products it launches.)

Because last summer’s replacement of third-party adapters didn’t deal with official Apple products, Apple was able to use the event to send the message that the quality and safety of its own adapters was higher than those of the adapters created by outside manufacturers. That perception made it more likely that consumers would buy Apple’s own accessories for their iPhones and iPads, even though the authentic Apple products typically cost more than the third-party versions, which can be found anywhere from mall kiosks to Amazon.

But the current recall is predicated on the safety and quality of Apple’s own adapters — albeit older adapters sold up to five years ago – and the press that follows could potentially call into question the superiority of Apple’s accessories. That possibility coincides with rumors about Apple’s Lightning connector, and the possibility that it could replace the standard headphone jack on iPhones, iPads, and iPods. According to NPR, Apple’s move to allow manufacturers to develop headphones compatible with the proprietary Lightning port could mean that it will abandon the standard 3.5mm headphone connector altogether, necessitating the purchase of authentic Apple headphones — or at least a new pair of headphones, possibly an adapter.

Could the concerns over the cost and inconvenience of needing a separate pair of headphones for the iPhone keep current iPhone owners from upgrading, or deter new customers from buying? It’s somewhat analogous to the need for multiple adapters to charge different generations of Apple products, in that if every Apple product a customer uses isn’t new, then he’ll have to hang onto multiple sets of headphones to use with the different devices. That inconvenience combined with concerns over the quality of Apple’s accessories might give some consumers pause.

However, there’s no real evidence that Apple’s past product replacement schemes have hurt sales of its own accessories and adapters, so it will be interesting to see how consumers react to the news that it’s Apple’s adapters this time, not a third party’s, that need to be replaced. Apple’s history of recalls certainly has the potential to hurt its next product launches, especially if it’s compounded by the introduction of something like a new headphone standard.

But especially given the timing, it seems more likely that the news that the company is recalling old adapters will be drowned out by the excitement around the new products that Apple has in the works — everything from iOS 8 to the new iPhone to the eventual applications of the Lightning connector. An announcement about any new product could easily see the adapter recall blow over, as Apple fans and tech enthusiasts would undoubtedly take on the (albeit low) risk of potential quality or safety issues to try out a new high-end technology that could make the current industry standard obsolete.

The full list of countries where the adapters recalled today were sold is as follows: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and Vietnam.

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