It's been a high-profile summer for lithium ion notebook batteries, much to the chagrin of Dell, Apple Computer and Sony.
Matsushita, better-known by its Panasonic brand name, joined the party this week with its own recall of 6,000 notebook batteries sold in Japan. This most recent recall isn't nearly as large as the ones that involved 4.1 million batteries sold by Dell and 1.8 million batteries sold by Apple, but it's another example of the care and attention being paid to notebook batteries these days.
Of course, it's not just notebook batteries that are causing problems. In June, Hewlett-Packard announced a recall of about 679,000 digital cameras that could catch fire if the cameras tried to apply a charge to a nonrechargable battery. Cell phone makers have dealt with problems from batteries for years, including several reported incidents of exploding phones.
With scary footage of flaming notebooks on the evening news and the Internet, many notebook users want to know if their system could be at risk. Here's a list of who has recalled batteries so far, and where to turn for information.
When: Aug. 15, 2006
How many: 4.1 million batteries, which were found in several different notebook models sold between April 2004 and July 18, 2006. This is the largest recall in the history of the consumer electronics industry.
Battery supplier: Sony
What the company said: Dell and Sony advised notebook users to visit Dell's battery recall site to enter their battery's serial number and order a replacement battery if they held a faulty battery. Users with the bad batteries should stop using them right away, but can still use their notebooks on AC power. The problem was apparently caused by a manufacturing defect in Sony's battery cells, in which small pieces of metal could work their way through insulating material in the battery and cause a short circuit. The recall involved about 18 percent of the notebooks Dell shipped during the affected period, and the company said it received six reports of incidents involving fire or overheating. Company:
When: Aug. 24, 2006
How many: 1.8 million batteries, affecting shipments of iBook G4 and PowerBook G4 notebooks sold between October 2003 and August 2006. Apple reported nine incidents, two of which involved minor injuries.
Battery supplier: Sony
What the company said: Like Dell, Apple set up a special Web page where iBook and PowerBook users could enter their battery's serial number to see if it was affected by the recall. Sony confirmed that Apple's problems were the same as Dell's, but said those two companies are the only ones right now using the faulty battery cells in the right (or wrong) implementation that leaves them prone to fires. Company:
When: Sept. 5, 2006
How many: 6,000 batteries for notebooks sold in Japan during April and May of 2005.
Battery supplier: Unknown. Matsushita refused to identify the company that made the 6,000 batteries, although it said that neither Sony nor its own battery-making subsidiary was at fault.
What the company said: Matsushita said it has not received any reports of incidents or injuries involving the batteries. This particular issue involved the possibility that a small piece of a metal spring could break off a battery or notebook that was dropped or impacted.