Uh oh. It looks like Apple’s Smart Cover – the genius iPad accessory that serves as a screen protector, stand, and off switch for the device, when closed – turns off more than just the iPad. It could actually power off implanted defibrillators in heart patients, rendering the device useless if needed to jump to its intended action: sending an electric shock to the heart if it happens to stop.
According to Bloomberg, 14-year-old Gianna Chien is the one that discovered this unfortunate flaw while working on a science fair project and, though she didn’t win the top prize in the contest, she took it one step further and reported her findings at the Heart Rhythm Society.
The iPad smart cover uses 30 magnets to help hold it in place. The magnets, while not very powerful, apparently are strong enough to flip the switch, but only if held against the chest. Even then, it’s not set in stone, but still, should be avoided. Defibrillators are designed to be able to be shut down using magnets in an emergency, so it’s not necessarily a flaw in the life-saving device itself.
During the study, Chien was able to test this on 26 volunteer patients – her father is a cardiac electrophysiologist and helped coordinate this effort – and the pacemakers were shut off in 30 percent. While, declining to comment, Apple seems to have been aware of this possibility from the start; it warns that all people with pacemakers should keep the device at least six inches from their chest.
Thankfully, most defibrillators actually will turn themselves back on once the magnetic interference is no longer in the picture. But there are some that will stay switched off until another magnet is introduced.
At the end of the day, the risk is very slim, but if you know anyone with a pacemaker, be sure to give them a heads up: no falling asleep while playing with your iPad!