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The older iPads have 10W power adapter (charger), and the iPhones supposed use only 5W chargers.

But the iPad 4th gen, probably due to the larger power consumption, uses a 12W power adapter / charger.

Is this charger safe to use with the older iPads and iPhones. Will it overcharge or overheat or damage the battery? A more serious worry is that if it overheats, then can the battery explode?

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Yes. The wattage ratings are maximum and all iOS devices will only pull the current they need to charge.

Should a device or an adapter get too hot to operate safely, they will shut off.

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