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France says “non” to iPhone 12

Posted by Andrew Shephard on 21st September 2023

Apple has been told to halt sales of iPhone 12 in France due to concerns that the handsets are emitting too much electromagnetic radiation.

The phones failed strict Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) testing, which measures the exposure of humans to close proximity radio signals such as the phone in your hand or pocket.

Apple is promising a software update to reduce the signal emissions so that iPhone 12 models meet France’s SAR tests and can be sold once more. But in the meantime, it looks like other European countries are starting to pay attention to the story with Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany joining in the fun and asking for new tests there too.

First things first. However you cut it, there are no proven links between exposure to electromagnetic signals and human health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued categorical statements to that effect for years but human nature is fickle.

What’s more, global manufacturers have to abide by strict SAR guidelines for the design and build of wireless products. As a result, the safeguards protecting people are already in place.

We are all different

From what I can see, the SAR tests that measure potential exposure are clever but convoluted. The French SAR test methodology — or the way they conduct the test itself — seems to be different in some way to those in other regions.

This is where Apple has come unstuck. Generally speaking, its smartphones tend to be developed with higher SAR levels than some other competitors, although well within the guidelines. Why? Because, frankly, Apple prefers to focus on features and performance over emission levels, which have — as I’ve already said — no proven link to health.

Oh, and just for the record, I carry an iPhone 12 and I am not remotely concerned about SAR emissions and the impact on my health.

The software fix Apple plans may satisfy the French regulator (AFNR) — but it is almost certainly bad news for Apple customers in France. That’s because along with potential supply chain disruption, they’ll end up with devices running with sub-optimal transmission levels.

As a result of meeting France’s tests, this will mean reduced call performance, slower data speeds, and faster-draining batteries.

Is Apple to blame?

Has Apple done bad? Almost certainly not. Or should that be “non”? Its products get more scrutiny than any other manufacturer on the planet. Apple passes SAR tests throughout the world with the same or very similar products.

However, it is a victim of its own success because brand popularity and media attention go hand in hand. And the week after Apple’s iPhone 15 event is the perfect time for something like this to catch the attention of technology correspondents.

In my opinion, there were some pretty lazy articles in the technology media as a result. From what I read, I feel the Reuters team did a pretty good job in developing the story further with some useful insight to the French SAR test and individual countries’ reactions. It’s well worth a read.

Andrew Shephard

Andrew’s engineering background and ‘fluff-free’ attitude combined with probably the broadest knowledge of technology installed in one PR brain ensures critical insight for Wildfire’s clients. He has driven campaigns for major forces in the semiconductor industry over 18 years including NEC Electronics, Sun Microelectronics and TSMC along with game-changing start-ups like Achronix and Nujira.