Amazon has a reputation for delivering quality goods at low prices, but a new lawsuit filed by Apple sheds unwelcome light on just how good some of those products actually are. It’s common to see Apple-compatible chargers and hardware for sale on Amazon and advertised as genuine Apple products — but according to Apple, the vast majority of these products are fake and built to terrible quality standards.
According to Patently Apple, Apple has filed suit against one such manufacturer, Mobile Star, whose products are available directly from Amazon and advertised as being genuine hardware, as shown below:
Underwriters Laboratories Inc (the testing facility responsible for certifying a great many products) recently conducted a series of tests on 400 counterfeit Apple adapters. Here’s how they describe the outcome:
The results of UL’s testing of counterfeit phone adapters were literally shocking. Part of the test equipment was damaged by energizing some of the counterfeit adapters. Twenty-two samples were immediately damaged during the process of energizing or during the leakage current test with 12 samples having a very high leakage current with a capacity for electrocution.
With regard to the electric strength test, only three of the four hundred samples passed, which corresponds to a 99 percent failure rate. Selected construction reviews found issues with the isolation transformer design. The internal components are vastly diﬀerent when compared with a genuine UL Listed Apple adapter. Post testing analysis of the tested samples revealed a complete lack of triple isolation wire used for the secondary windings; neither the primary or secondary windings were separated properly, which is the major reason for the dramatic failure rate on the electric strength test.
When only three out of 400 samples can pass a test, you’ve clearly got a problem — and Apple is acting to isolate and reduce the possibility of product damage by suing one manufacturer directly. On the one hand, this is not surprising. Counterfeit and cheap generic power supplies from no-name vendors are a known point of failure. Generic power supplies tend to use cheap components and often aren’t designed for anything like the load ratings they advertise.
We’ve also seen a number of problems with USB-C in the past year, thanks to the efforts of Benson Leung, who took on the challenge of testing whether myriad cables advertising USB Type-C compatibility were actually built to spec and up to code (the answer has been no, in many cases, particularly when dealing with cheap Chinese manufacturers). Goods and services in China are often built with a mindset of “Chabuduo,” or close enough — this essay over at Aeon explores the problems and root causes of the philosophy and how the tech industry, in particular, has pushed to adopt manufacturing philosophies more in line with what Western customers expect.
The problem with counterfeit devices these days is that many of the counterfeits are good — so good, you need to literally read the fine print or examine the UL and Apple logos extremely closely to determine whether the hardware is actually legitimate. That’s not something you can plausibly do from an Amazon order page, not when stock photos are easily available and can be substituted for the product you’re actually buying. The fact that this hardware was sold directly by Amazon is another problem, though Amazon appears to have cooperated with Apple in removing the offending listings.
The problem here is that consumers tend to assume that a product is genuine if it is sold by Amazon and advertised as an official Apple product. There’s an unconscious assumption that someone — either Amazon or Apple — has already verified that products being advertised as genuine actually are genuine. Situations like this drive home the point that this is not the case. But the consumer has no practical way of validating the authenticity of the product without purchasing it and doing a close examination of its external markings and/or internal structure.
The simplest way to avoid the problem is to buy directly from the manufacturer. Don’t try to cut corners when it comes to power adapters and supplies — you may save a few bucks up front, but it could cost you significantly more later on.
Now read: How USB charging works, or how to avoid blowing up your smartphone