Apple Recalls Almost 2 Million Batteries

Apple is recalling 1.8 million lithium-ion batteries that can overheat and pose a fire hazard, the second major recall involving the Sony batteries in a week.

August 24, 2006

3 Min Read
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Apple Computer Inc. on Thursday recalled 1.8 million lithium-ion batteries that can overheat and pose a fire hazard, the second major recall involving the Sony batteries in a week.

The voluntary recall was announced through the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which said the batteries were used in iBook G4 and PowerBook G4 laptops. Sony Corp. also made the 4.1 million batteries recalled last week by Dell Inc. for the same reasons. Dell's action was the largest consumer electronic recall ever.

The CPSC said the recall covered 1.1 million batteries sold in the United States, and an additional 700,000 batteries sold outside the country.

Sony said in a statement that it supported the Apple recall, and said that it "anticipates no further recalls of battery packs using these particular battery cells."

The problem sparking the Apple and Dell recalls were the same. Microscopic metal particles in the battery cells could come into contact with other components, leading to a short circuit that could cause the unit to overheat and potentially burst into flame."Typically, a battery pack will simply power off when a cell short circuit occurs," Sony said. "However, under certain rare conditions, an internal short circuit may lead to cell overheating and potentially flames."

Sony added that "variations in the system configurations" of notebooks could contribute to the fire hazard.

Apple has received nine reports of batteries overheating, the CPSC said. Two of the reports involved minor burns from handling overheated computers, and there had also been reports of minor property damage. No serious injuries were reported.

The recalled batteries were used in the 12-inch iBook G4, 12-inch PowerBook G4 and 15-inch PowerBook G4. The battery model numbers include A1061, A1079, A1078 and A1148. The notebooks were sold from October 2003 through August of this year through Apple's online and retail stores, and through resellers. The batteries were also sold separately for $130.

Apple has set up a site for customers to request a battery exchange.Sony said Thursday that it had introduced additional safeguards to the manufacturing process to address the problem with the recalled batteries.

"We believe the issue has been addressed to the satisfaction of our customers," the company said.

Sony estimates that the recall programs of Apple and Dell will cost the company between $171.7 million and $257.7 million. The cost includes the battery replacements.

The recalls have been an embarrassment for Sony, which has been struggling to increase profits in the highly competitive consumer electronics market. The recalls by Apple and Dell are unique because the supplier has been tainted as much, if not more, than the seller of the end product, Stephen Baker, analyst for The NPD Group said.

"This time, the supplier got as much of a ding as the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) did," Baker said.Apple, however, did the right thing by initiating the recall soon after Dell, particularly since it was known that Apple also used Sony batteries. Disclosing the problem and offering to replace the battery for free should quash any rumors that could circulate otherwise, Baker said.

"The uncertainty of not knowing is typically what will drive people away from your product, not something they know about," the analyst said.

Baker did not expect Apple or Dell to suffer any long-term damage to their brands as a result of the recalls. "In general, I don't think there's going to be much impact," he said.

The bigger problem is the increasing power demand manufacturers are placing on lithium-ion batteries, while trying to stuff them into smaller computers that can't provide adequate cooling systems. What's being demanded "requires advances in battery technology that doesn't exist right now," Baker said.

The latest recalls are not the first related to lithium-ion batteries. Similar incidents sparked recalls by Hewlett-Packard Co. Apple two weeks ago launched an unrelated battery recall for its 15-inch MacBook Pro notebooks.0

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