Friday, August 25, 2006

I Think I Just Cost Apple Twelve Million Dollars

Apple has recalled 1.8 million laptop batteries. You can check your serial numbers here or just skim this paragraph from ABC News:

The affected notebooks include the 12-inch iBook G4, the 12-inch PowerBook G4, and the 15-inch PowerBook G4. The model number of the iBook is A1061, with battery serial numbers including ZZ338 through ZZ427, 3K429 through 3K611, and 6C510 through 6C626. For the 12-inch PowerBook G4, the model number is A1079, with the affected battery numbers listed as ZZ411 through ZZ427 and 3K428 through 3K611. For the 15-inch PowerBook G4, the affected models are the A1078 and the A1148l, with the battery numbers listed as 3K425 through 3K601, 6N530 through 6N551, and 6N601.
About the recall, AP writes:
The manufacturing process of lithium-ion batteries at the Sony plant introduced metal particles into battery cells. Makers of battery cells strive to minimize the presence of such particles, which can cause the overheating, but it's nearly impossible to eliminate the metal dust.

Sony said the Dell and Apple batteries were configured in slightly different ways. In a statement, it said the problems arise "on rare occasions" when microscopic metal particles hit other parts of the battery cell and lead to a short circuit.

Apple said Thursday it has received nine reports of battery packs overheating, including two cases in which users suffered minor burns and some involving minor property damage.

I submitted one of those nine reports (nope, no burns here). When Apple did its last battery recall, I was very frustrated that my PowerBook G4 battery was not included in the narrow serial number range (128,000 batteries were recalled), because mine gets very, very hot, so I submitted an Incident Report to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. If nine reports of dangerous batteries are enough to spur a recall, apparently this can be quite effective under the right circumstances. Dell's recent recall of 4.1 million batteries got one cost estimate of $246 million; that works out to $60 per battery. For Apple's 1.8 million batteries, a similar cost per battery would make $108 million dollars. If we laid responsibility for the recall on the nine filed incident reports (Dell's previous recall notwithstanding) that would mean that each report came with a $12 million price tag.

If your battery overheats but was not included in this recall, I encourage you to report the problem to the CPSC. If the battery gave you the feeling of being burned in any non-financial way, make sure to mention that, too.

Dell's willingness to be the first to issue a massive recall of these batteries should not be overlooked. Would we have had an iPod Nano screen-scratch recall if the music-player market was more like the laptop market? Of course, Apple deserves some credit, too. Other laptop makers have come forward to express confidence in their own laptop batteries, despite their being made in the same factory under the same conditions, and offer up no information to the public regarding how many bad battery reports they've received.

I myself will eagerly await a replacement battery to learn whether a new battery will keep my G3-era power supply from overheating when I use it with my G4 laptop. Now that thing gets hot. (If I should be using a special G4 power supply with a G4 notebook, feel free to jump in and let me know before I kill myself.) If the new battery doesn't do the trick, I'll be sure to report the power supply as well.

Note: Some users have reported that the recall site isn't working for them. I submitted a request with no problem and am just waiting for the email follow-up. If you do have problems with the web form, you can always just call Apple at (800) 275-2273 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. CT any day of the week to request the new battery.

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