Ten days after Dell's record-setting notebook battery recall, Apple Computer Inc told its customers to return 1.8 million batteries that could cause their Mac laptops to overheat and catch fire.
Both recalls involve lithium-ion batteries made by a Sony Corp subsidiary in Japan, where the manufacturing process introduced metal particles into battery cells. Makers of battery cells strive to minimize or eliminate the presence of such particles, which can cause computers to short circuit, or, in extreme situations, catch fire.
In its recall announcement on Thursday, Apple said it has received nine reports of lithium-ion battery packs overheating, including two cases in which users suffered minor burns and some involving minor property damage. The Apple recall only applies to older notebooks -- not the just-released MacBooks and MacBook Pros.
On Aug. 14, Dell recalled 4.1 million faulty laptop batteries -- the largest involving electronics in the history of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Sony Energy Devices Corp said the Dell and Apple batteries were configured in slightly different ways. In a statement, Sony said the problems arise "on rare occasions" when microscopic metal particles hit other parts of the battery cell and lead to a short circuit.
Sony said the recalls will cost it between US$172 million and US$278 million. Apple spokesman Steve Dowling said its recall was not expected to materially affect the company's results. Dell has said the recall would not affect earnings.
Apple shares closed on Thursday at US$67.81, up US$0.50. Dell shares closed at US$21.78, up US$0.14.
Spokespeople at other large computer makers, including Hewlett-Packard Co, Gateway Inc and Lenovo Group (
Although Lenovo uses Sony batteries, Lenovo engineers configured their battery packs differently than Dell or Apple. They also rigorously tested the battery packs with Sony engineers, and they're "highly confident" the laptops aren't going to overheat.
"Lenovo designs its battery packages a different way," said Lenovo spokesman Bob Page. "How close the battery pack is it to a heat source, how evenly can you keep the heat in battery cells, the basic geometric arrangement of the cell -- all those things affect whether there will be problems."
Analyst Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies said investors wouldn't likely blame or punish Apple for the battery recall.
"When you view Apple, you've really got to see a company that's doing well on all levels of products," he said. "You've really got to judge them on the whole. Like with any company, you might have a hiccup here and there. What I really would have had a problem with was if they had covered it up."
Consumers may have a different opinion about whether the Cupertino, California-based electronics maker is at fault in the recall.
For years, the electronics industry has been aware for years that lithium-ion batteries could short-circuit when subjected to the fierce power consumption demands of laptop computers. In May last year, Apple recalled 128,000 laptop batteries made by LG Chem Ltd of South Korea because of overheating problems.
But the newest recall is much more far-reaching. The Dell recall affects less than 20 percent of the Dell laptops sold at the time, whereas the Apple recall affects more than 30 percent of the total number of laptops Apple sold in the period affected by the recall, according to IDC analyst Richard Shim.