Big in Japan: Overheating iPods irk Japanese consumers

Japanese consumers love their electronics, and they take incredible pride in being one of the world’s most technologically literate societies.

Indeed, the Japanese have traditionally been extremely loyal to their domestic brands, especially since companies like Sony, Nikon and Canon produce some of the finest electronic goods in the world. In recent years however, foreign products have started to make significant advances in the Japanese consumer market, particularly anything made by Cupertino, California-based Apple Inc.

In a society where image and fashion are paramount, Apple’s stylish products speak to Japanese consumers looking to distinguish themselves from the masses. Despite the fact that Sony invented the Walkman, the vast majority of Japanese consumers rely on iPods for all of their personal music needs.

However, Apple is currently in danger of losing a percentage of their market share, following reports that a couple of iPods in Tokyo overheated, igniting stacks of nearby papers. In a society where safety and harmony are also paramount, potentially dangerous consumer goods are quickly shunned, even if they actually pose a minute risk.

According to reports that are quickly circulating through the Japanese media, a small number of first generation iPod Nanos overheated this past week, resulting in nearby papers being scorched. While no one was hurt in any of these incidents, the issue was serious enough to draw the attention of Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry official Hiroyuki Yoshitsune, who immediately demanded that Apple investigate the defect.

Apple responded by stating that the overheating problem was the result of a defective lithium-ion battery that was being traced to a single supplier. However, they emphasized that the problem was extremely rare, occurring in approximately 0.001% of first generation devices sold between September 2005 and December 2006. They also stressed that no one had been harmed in any of the incidents, and that any customer worried about their device should contact customer services.

Unfortunately for Apple, this is not the first time that they have had to deal with the fall-out of spontaneously combusting personal electronics. In 2006, the company received quite a bit of negative press over the faulty lithium-ion batteries found in a number of its laptops. Following reports by various media outlets of small laptop fires breaking out, Apple quickly removed 1.8 million units from the global market.

With that said, it’s worth emphasizing that you don’t need to rush to the store to trade in your black MacBook and iPod Touch, especially since the Dell Inspiron and Microsoft Zune are (at least in my humble opinion!) somewhat inferior products. However, it will be interesting to see what the fallout is amongst fickle Japanese consumers, who are famous for seizing and abandoning products in a moment’s whim.

** All photos are courtesy of the WikiCommons Media Project, and are trademarked images of Apple Inc products. They are are being displayed here on this website for the purpose of critical commentary. **