Apple recalls 1.8 million batteries made by Sony

Sony's problems grow as Apple joins Dell in pulling explosive batteries

Apple will recall 1.8 million lithium-ion notebook PC batteries after nine overheated, the second major recall in the past 10 days involving battery cells made by Sony.

The recall, announced on Thursday, is the second-biggest in U.S. history involving electronics or computers. Just last week, No. 1 PC maker Dell Inc recalled 4.1 million lithium-ion batteries, also with Sony-made cells.

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Apple, like Dell, said it did not expect any "material" financial impact on its business. Sony, however, said the two recalls would cost it between 20 billion yen and 30 billion yen, or $172 million to $258 million.

The higher figure equals about one-fourth of Sony's net profit forecast for the current business year to March.

"Sony clearly has a problem here," said Tim Bajarin, principal analyst at Creative Strategies in San Jose, California.

"There's a problem with the batteries overheating."

Bajarin noted, however, that in Apple's case there were no reported notebook fires, while several of the recalled Dell computers had erupted in flames. Dell said it had reports of six batteries overheating, but no injuries were reported.

About 100 million notebook computers are sold annually worldwide, Bajarin said. They are the fastest growing segment of the personal computer market.

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Sony on Thursday said in a separate statement that it did not anticipate further recalls of batteries using the potentially faulty cells.

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Apple will recall 1.1 million batteries sold with notebook computers in the United States and 700,000 abroad, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said.

"Our No. 1 priority is to recall and replace the affected batteries free of charge," Apple spokesman Steve Dowling said. The reported overheating incidents were due to "contamination" in the Sony battery cells, he said, but added that he did not have further details.

Roger Kay, president of market researcher Endpoint Technologies Associates, said the affected Sony battery cells might overheat or catch fire when tiny metal fragments, remnants of the manufacturing process, break loose and cause short-circuits. Dell also pointed to "contamination" in the Sony battery cells as the cause of its problems.

The batteries were sold with Apple iBook G4 and PowerBook G4 computers from October 2003 through this month, according to the safety commission. None of Apple's most recent notebooks using microprocessors from Intel Corp. are affected, Dowling said.

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Apple had said last week after the Dell recall that it was reviewing its notebook batteries to ensure they met its standards.

"The key message to consumers is these lithium-ion batteries can actually overheat and pose a fire hazard," said Scott Wolfson, spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission in Washington.

Shares of Apple closed up 50 cents at $67.81 on Nasdaq. Earlier, they had dipped as low as $66.27 after the recall announcement.

The recall follows a smaller Apple recall of lithium-ion batteries in certain iBook G4 and PowerBook G4 notebooks sold worldwide from October 2004 through May 2005.

Those batteries were made by LG Chem Ltd. of South Korea, according to Apple's Web site.

Dell last week began a voluntary recall of 2.7 million batteries sold in the United States and 1.4 million sold overseas. The Dell-branded batteries were in computers sold from April 2004 through July 18 of this year.

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