08/06 Update below. This post was originally published on June 5
Apple’s iPhone 12 range continues to break sales records, but now a major new study has warned that the phones present a significant health risk just days ahead of the company’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). Here’s what you need to know.
This week the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA) published its findings from a new study into the potential health risks caused by MagSafe, the magnetic charging system Apple built into every iPhone 12 model. JAHA concluded that the iPhone 12 range “has the potential to inhibit lifesaving therapy.”
07/06 Update: WWDC leaks are picking up pace ahead of the event today, with Bloomberg leaking Apple’s iPhone and iPad plans for iOS/iPadOS 15 as well as iPad hardware upgrades which are likely to have a significant impact on the JAHA’s research. Bloomberg states that Apple “is testing a similar MagSafe system for the iPad Pro.” iPads have not previously used MagSafe. Bloomberg adds that MagSafe on the iPad Pro may also support reverse wireless charging (allowing iPhones/AirPods to charge by putting them on the back of an iPad) which aligns with reports that MagSafe is “getting stronger” for the iPhone 13 range as well. If Apple does go ahead with these moves, the health implications are going to run and run.
08/06 Update: Bloomberg’s reports of an upgraded version of MagSafe coming to new iPads has taken a step forward today after its leaks regarding Apple’s iOS 15 features proved to be spot on. At WWDC, Apple confirmed Bloomberg’s report that iOS 15 would make major changes to FaceTime, radically reinvent iPadOS multitasking and shake up how widgets are used on the devices. Consequently, Bloomberg’s sources look well placed when it comes to flagging Apple’s future plans. That said, while the number of medical reports into the potential of MagSafe to trigger pacemakers and defrillators, a reader with a pacemaker has flagged to me his defence of using magnets around pacemakers. For anyone worried about the latest studies, his counterpoints are well worth a read.
The problem stems from Magsafe’s potential to cause electromagnetic interference with cardiac implantable electronic devices (CIEDs), which include pacemakers and defibrillators. JAHA said its tests found that CEIDs can be disrupted by a magnetic field of as little as 10 G [gauss] while “The magnetic field strength of the iPhone 12 Pro Max can be greater than 50 G when in direct contact.”
“Our case series has several clinical implications,” explains JAHA. “People often put their smartphones in a breast pocket over a device which can be in close proximity to CIEDs. This can lead to asynchronous pacing or disabling of anti‐tachycardic therapies.”
JAHA’s findings align with research carried out by the Heart Rhythm Journal in January which warned MagSafe magnets in the iPhone 12 range can “potentially inhibit lifesaving therapy in a patient” and recommended “To avoid any potential interactions with these devices, keep your iPhone and MagSafe accessories a safe distance away from your [CIED] device (more than 6 inches / 15 cm apart or more than 12 inches / 30 cm apart if wirelessly charging).”
Apple responded to those findings with a support document that acknowledged the potential for interference but downplayed the risk, saying “though all iPhone 12 models contain more magnets than prior iPhone models, they’re not expected to pose a greater risk of magnetic interference to medical devices than prior iPhone models.”
But JAHA’s research, while finding some CEID brands were more susceptible than others, disputes Apple’s claim specifically:
“Apple Inc, has an advisory stating that the newer generation iPhone 12 does not pose a greater risk for magnet interference when compared to the older generation iPhones. However, our study suggests otherwise as magnet response was demonstrated in 3/3 cases in vivo. In comparison to the older generation iPhone 6, a study performed by Lacour et al, found no cases of magnet response in a sample size of 148 patients.”
Over one million pacemakers are implanted worldwide every year, of which 200,000 are in the United States and “these numbers are expected to grow” (source). Backing up that data, the APSF (Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation) states that “Cardiac arrhythmias have an estimated prevalence of 14.4 million patients in the United States, and they account for approximately 40,700 deaths annually.”
“In conclusion, this report highlights the importance of public awareness,” states JAHA. “Patients are advised to consult with a heart rhythm specialist regarding recommendations specific to their smartphone and CIED.”
It remains to be seen whether Apple will update the MagSafe warning on its website in light of this new data. And with leaks claiming MagSafe magnets will be “getting stronger” in the upcoming iPhone 13 range, questions around the convenient charging technology look set to grow.
I have contacted Apple and will update this article when/if I receive a response.
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