Can a magnet damage my smartphone?

Since the days of the first personal computer it has been part of ‘geeklore’ (like folklore but more interesting) that magnets are bad for all things electronic. But come on I hear you say, we’ve moved on from the days of the faithful floppy disk and the cumbersome CRT monitor, surely this can’t be the case? Magnets can’t seriously damage my iPhone, can they?

The short answer is, if the magnet is big enough and strong enough it could damage your device, and not just by dropping the magnet on it!

In this article, I’ll take a brief look at what your smartphone is made of and what would happen if you placed it next to a magnet.

Screen – In days of yore, when mobile phones were the size of cereal boxes and PC monitors had back-ends the size of a Ford Escort these monstrosities were very susceptible to magnetic interference. Placing a magnet near a CRT screen would result in an array of psychedelic colours being displayed. This is because a CRT monitor generates light by shooting a finely focused beam of electrons which is deflected using magnetic fields to create the picture. Therefore, a foreign magnetic field will interfere with the magnetic field required to create picture in the first place. However, modern smartphones use LCD screens which are not generally susceptible to magnets, hurrah!

Storage – There are different kinds of storage devices commonly used in technology. Your computer will contain a hard disk drive that uses a strong neodymium magnet to swing the read/write head which allows you to access, read and write data. Therefore hard disk drives aren’t going to be susceptible to regular magnets but can be corrupted by really strong magnets. The storage chip in modern smartphones such as the iPhone is a ‘flash’ style drive and can’t be wiped by a magnet as there are no magnetic components within the chips, hurrah!

Digital compass – The digital compass in a smartphone such as the iPhone acts like a magnetic-needle compass and its accuracy, just like a traditional compass, can be affected by a strong external magnetic field. If your compass is affected your phone should display an alert. For iPhone owners, you can find more details on how to correct it in the Apple support site.

Location services – Your smartphone determines your location using a clever in-built GPS system. As GPS works using satellite signals and not geomagnetic forces it isn’t susceptible to magnetic interference.

Magnetometer – The magnetometer in your smartphone allows your device to detect the strength and direction of magnetic fields. It works with the digital compass but is also used by many other available apps. This particular gizmo could be susceptible to really strong magnetic fields.

Speaker – The speaker in your smartphone is like every other speaker, it needs magnets to operate therefore won’t be affected by an external magnetic field.

So, in summary, unless you smartphone is exposed to a really substantial magnet for a considerable amount of time the only thing you are likely to damage is the phone’s digital compass. So, there will be no issues at all with the magnets that your phone is likely to come into contact with during everyday use such as those in magnetic cases or cradles or on your purse or handbag.

This magnet will damage your phone.
50mm x 50mm x 25mm N52 neodymium magnet.

This magnet will not damage your phone.
9mm dia x 3mm thick N42 Neodymium Magnet.

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