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Are Apple's Exploding Devices Much Ado About Nothing?


Blowing a hole in the "big news" from Europe.

First, the good news: it's 2009 and it appears that we survived the annihilation, carnage, collapse, destruction and extinction promised by Y2K.

That dreaded combination of two letters and a digit now seems about as distant as the Peloponnesian War. But when the calendar was about to flip to 2000, the press pummeled innocents everywhere with stories about impending computer failures, power outages, air traffic control mayhem, empty supermarket shelves and panic in the streets.

And now comes the news in Europe of Apple's (AAPL) "exploding iPhones and iPods."

Such news stories may be the 21st century version of "things that go bump in the night" and may reflect our yearning for a simpler world, or at least one that makes sense for the English majors who write most of the news.

A story from the Agence France-Presse intones, "Brussels last week asked Apple to examine the phenomenon after a French teenager's claim that an Apple iPhone shattered in his face and a case in Britain of an exploding iPod portable music player."

So, let's see: we have a "claim" by a teenager in France and a "case" in Britain. The EU, while noting the alleged explosions are "isolated events" is, in the reporter's words, nevertheless asking Apple "to explain the phenomenon." The commission's request makes the whole thing "official" news, even landing in today's New York Times. The EU graciously notes that Apple doesn't believe there's a problem.

"Brussels" is shorthand for the European Commission, an army of bureaucrats churning out reams of unread reports in the city that gave its name to the inedible sprouts that terrorize small children at dinner. The story could be just another effort by the EU to discombobulate an American company.

That may sound like the paranoid ravings of a survivalist who has stockpiled canned food and ammunition in his mountain redoubt, but keep in mind that EU regulators thundered that Microsoft's (MSFT) efforts to include a browser in its latest version of Windows probably violated European antitrust laws. Never mind that Google (GOOG) released Chrome, its own web browser, or that Microsoft is also challenged by Firefox and Apple's Safari and continues to lose market share.

Might Apple have a real problem with overheating lithium ion batteries? Perhaps. The power supply appears to be the weak link in our march to a wireless world, but it's hard to get a rational discussion of the conundrum in the general press.

Lacking a dispassionate view, let's all jump on a report of a claim about a purported event that took place at an unknown location sometime in the not too distant past. That used to be called "hearsay" or at the very least, nonsense.

This just in, compliments of a commuter paper in London: "The sudden rise of swine flu may trigger a pandemic that could wipe out 120 million people, an expert has warned." In case you don't get the seriousness of the situation, gentle reader, the story appeared under a photo of masked cops in Mexico carrying automatic weapons, trigger finger ready to let loose a blast of bullets.

It's almost enough to make the end of the world a welcome respite from the daily babble of what passes for news in the slow month of August.
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