Hear me out.
Officeworks this week stopped selling Apple’s latest little gadget the AirTags without any formal announcement or notice, other than to provide some quotes to the media, and simply delete the product from their online store.
The issue at hand is the battery that powers the AirTag and just how accessible it might be in the wrong hands.
Speaking to the ABC, an Officeworks spokesperson said it had removed AirTags from sale “until further guidance is provided from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission”.
“The Apple AirTag range will temporarily be unavailable from purchase from Officeworks,” the spokesperson told the ABC.
They went on to say “Officeworks continues to work with Apple to address any safety concerns.”
The issue of Button batteries and children is real, and an important one to work hard to prevent. That’s a legitimate thing.
Where the Bullshit comes in is Officeworks acting on its own here.
Think about it – Since when did a retailer decide if a product is safe? And if they are, are they doing it for all related products?
Retailers are responsible for handling the returns via any recall that might occur from products they sell for Third Party companies like Apple for people who purchased from them.
Likewise, a retailer is responsible for the entire end to end recall process for any of their own branded products or house brand lines – like Officeworks AirPod rip-off OTTO headphones which were recalled late last year due to a risk of fire, injury or death.
But in this case, the Apple AirTags are not subject to any recall, and at this stage there’s no evidence they breach any consumer guidelines.
An Apple Spokesperson told EFTM “AirTag is designed to meet international child safety standards, including those in Australia, by requiring a two step push-and-turn mechanism to access the user-replaceable battery. We are following the regulations closely and are working to ensure that our products will meet or exceed new standards, including those for package labelling, well ahead of the timeline required.”
The “New” standards referenced are the Button & Coin Safety guidelines released by the ACCC Product Safety team which come into effect in June 2022. That’s over a year away.
Apple say they will update the AirTag packaging to be fully compliant with that regulation well in advance of that deadline. Seems fair right?
Will the new guidelines help?
Let’s remember here, these new guidelines come after the deaths of three very young children in Australia over several years – three too many, and the apparent hospitalisation of many more every week who survive, but may suffer long term health effects from swallowing a button battery.
The ACCC guidelines seek to ensure packaging represents these warnings properly to products that use button batteries, and the batteries themselves.
However, a warning label alone won’t stop this problem. A campaign is required (perhaps headed by the ACCC) to ensure awareness of this issue means parents keep button batteries out of reach of children.
Unfortunately, button batteries are a necessary evil in many ways. We are striving for smaller thinner products and they need power some how.
If Apple had released a disposable Airtag without a replaceable battery (as their product rival Tile did and still does have) they would be accused of driving annual sales of a product, and environmental damage for creating a disposable item like that.
Apple’s product, like any product with a button battery going forward, must have a mechanism that makes it difficult for the battery to be removed from the product and thus potentially consumed.
AirTags require you to push and twist the back metal cover. I would argue the mechanism is good enough to be hard for a child under 4 or 5 to get into, but certainly not impossible.
What about other Button Battery products?
Which brings us to the real bullshit of this situtation.
If you believe the AirTags must be removed from sale until they are safe, why are Tile products still available on the Officeworks Website?
I’ve opened a fair few Tile boxes in my time, I don’t recall seeing any emergency warning about Button batteries, in fact I think the packaging was easier to open than Apple’s frankly. But that’s another issue.
And Tile products for the most part have removable CR2032 button batteries. I just tried it on the Tile I carry around with me for the EFTM office keys!
It was easier than the AirTag. Yet it probably also meets the two movement rule for the international standard, in this case push in and out at the same time. For AirTag it is push in and twist.
In my case, the Tile product is over a year old, so it’s had it’s battery replaced once – on a newer Tile it’s definitely harder, but if you have a 3 year old Tile, and a 3 year old Baby, keep them separate folks.
If Officeworks is serious about Button Battery safety, and bloody good on them if they are – then they should remove Tile from their stores as well.
There are reports JB HiFi has also removed the product, though their website states that is due to stock issues. They could be just quietly playing wait and see. Their site also clearly states the Button Battery warning.
As does Harvey Norman, who continue to stock the product.
And of course, Apple too is still selling AirTags.
Warning Labels incoming
So, it’s up to Officeworks now to decide if they really want the profit margin on AirTags, because they are selling like hotcakes at other stores, and most importantly Apple.
That is until – if we’re to assume Officeworks is waiting on – the new Warning Labels are introduced.
But I don’t know about you, when I buy something new, I’m not reading the labels, I’m ripping it open and getting started.
This will end up like Drone flight guidelines. 5 years ago a big flyer was included in every Drone you purchased. Today, it’s a tiny shrunken down little flyer that’s there just to tick the box. It doesn’t help educate people.
Likewise, a few warning labels aren’t going to stop these issues in total.
We need a public campaign warning that the batteries, replacement batteries, old batteries and any small products should always be kept out of reach of children. It’s called parenting folks.
The amazing thing is, I think it would be very rare for anyone to keep an Airtag itself sitting around without a case on it, to keep it secure on keys or a backpack – so your kids will need to get into the Tag case as well as the tag itself. For once Apple’s addiction to the extra-cost accessory (think MacBook and Dongles, now it’s AirTag and Accessories) is actually working in their favor from a safety perspective.