Battery maker increases compatibility across notebooks

In an effort to curry favour with notebook users, Electrovaya Inc. has improved the compatibility of its PowerPad portable batteries.

The batteries will now work with select notebook models from Dell, Hewlett Packard,

Acer and Compaq, the company said Tuesday. The challenge, according to Electrovaya CFO Paul Van Damme, is in dealing with modulated versus standard voltages, but the battery packs are starting to find a home in diverse locales.

Frequent business travellers — so-called road warriors — use the packs on long-haul flights, he said. The Mississauga, Ont.-based company is adding customers in the health-care and education sectors. Power outlets are a precious commodity in those environments, he said. Hospitals are using laptops with battery packs to connect to a wireless LAN by wheeling them around on specially designed carts.

The PowerPad 160 yields up to 16 hours of battery life; the PowerPad 120, 12 hours. They’re roughly the size of a magazine (8 inches by 11.5 inches by 3/8 inches) and weigh less than three pounds.

The notebook industry hasn’t devised a way to increase the life of built-in batteries without significantly adding to the weight of the machine, so third-party portable packs are the only alternative for the power hungry, said IDC Canada Ltd. analyst John Stanisic.

The whole appeal of the notebook is its portability, so plugging it into an electrical outlet defeats its purpose. “”Over the coming years, as we start seeing the rise of wireless LANs and more use of that in offices . . . I think they’ll also be increasing demand for battery life,”” he said.

The extra weight of an external battery pack may have deterred notebook users from buying them in the past, added Giga Information Group analyst Rob Enderle. Traditionally, batteries weighed in at more than seven pounds (in some cases more than the weight of the notebook itself). But now that Electrovaya and other battery vendors have reduced that weight closer to two pounds, they may see more acceptance, he said.

Plus, added Enderle, a portable pack significantly improves over the performance of most built-in rechargeable batteries. “”If you have a P4 notebook and you don’t have one of these things . . . you’ve got slow P3 performance. These things can return that performance to you.””

But battery packs are still a specialty item in the eyes of most consumers, according to a sales employee at Toronto store Notebook Universe. “”People are very price-sensitive. They’re double the cost, if not more, than an (extra) battery. Granted, they’re better, there’s a lot more power, but sometimes the dollar wins the day,”” he said.

The market for the products is still firmly in the hands of the business user, said Ali Hamedani, store supervisor at a Toronto CompuSmart Canada location. CompuSmart has been carrying the Electrovaya products for several months through a distribution deal with Hartco. “”We are not selling 10 every day, but we are selling two or three a week,”” said Hamedani. To drum up business, he has offered demonstration models to local companies.

Business for battery packs may rise concurrently with the success of the notebook market in Canada, said Stanisic. According to IDC numbers, the overall PC market shrank three per cent in the second quarter of 2002, but the notebook market increased nine per cent, year over year.

The PowerPad 120 sells at manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) for $549, the PowerPad 160 for $699.


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