iPad Smart Cover magnets can switch off pacemakers, school kid discovers

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Thumbnail image for AppleiPad2.jpgA little-known issue with the iPad and its magnetic Smart Covers that can affect pacemakers has been brought to light by a fourteen-year old US school kid.

Gianna Chien discovered that the magnets in the tablet and its cover can inadvertently shut off the defibrillators keeping people alive.

Pacemakers use magnets as a safety measure to switch off the internal devices. Though an iPad’s magnets are too small to affect a user when held at a reading distance, if the magnets get too close to the user’s chest (the example being given if a user falls asleep with the tablet resting on their chest), the unit can be affected.

Chien’s study found that 30% of patients that placed the iPads on their chests had problems with their pacemakers for a short time afterwards. And while most pacemakers will automatically kick back in once the magnets have been put to a distance, some need to be re-activated manually, leading to a potentially life-threatening situation.

Chien’s findings didn’t earn her first place at the science fair that she entered them into, but has lead to perhaps an even greater prize – she will be presenting her findings to 8,000 doctors at a meeting of the Heart Rhythm Society in Denver.

Despite bringing it to the attention of the masses, it’s not quite Chien’s lone discovery. Apple acknowledge in the documentation for the iPad that the magnets can have an adverse effect on pacemakers. However, it’s a danger that’s been more-or-less tucked under the carpet by Apple, and one that certainly needs more widespread highlighting.

Gerald Lynch