Mac resellers say they aren’t sweating Apple’s battery recall

While there have been several reports of minor injuries, Canadian Apple VARs say that the Mac battery recall is no reason to push the panic button.

Apple Computer issued a voluntary recall on Thursday for batteries in its 12-inch iBook G4, 12-inch PowerBook G4 and 15-inch PowerBook G4 laptop computers that were sold between October 2003 and August 2006. According to Apple’s Web site, “certain lithium-ion batteries containing cells manufactured by Sony Corporation of Japan pose a safety risk that may result in overheating under rare circumstances.”

Apple is offering consumers the option to turn in the affected batteries for free replacements. The company was unable to return calls for comment at press time, but said in an e-mail that “we do not anticipate this recall to have a material financial impact on Apple.”

According to a press release posted on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Web site, the recall affects about 1.1 million batteries in the U.S., and 700,000 outside the country.

Apple has received nine reports of batteries overheating and there have been two reported incidents of minor burns. There have been several reports of minor property damage but no one has been seriously injured as a result of overheating.

Apple isn’t the only computer manufacturer to discover that the batteries it uses may be faulty. Just last week, Dell issued a recall for 4.1 million batteries.

Battery OEMs are being squeezed by market pressures, making the manufacturing process more complicated, argued Larry O’Connor, president of Woodstock, Ill.-based Newer Technology Inc. His company makes replacement batteries for Apple laptops and iPods, albeit in much smaller quantities than the OEMs he’s competing with.

“There’s a lot of challenges doing mass production of this kind of battery. Power consumption goes up as these processors get faster. Obviously a lot of pressure is put on these manufacturers to provide a quality battery of high capacity at a competitive cost,” he said.

O’Connor claims his batteries have 62 per cent more power capacity than the original batteries that ship with Apple machines. He ships 5,000 to 10,000 batteries a month and so far hasn’t had an overheating problem with his own products. He said he doesn’t use Sony cells, but those from Panasonic, Sanyo, and E-One Moli Energy, a manufacturer based in B.C.

While recalls are relatively common for large manufacturers, said Kelvin Lee, manager of Toronto-based North Star Computer, they should not be considered a major cause for concern.

“Apple has had a few battery recalls in the past,” he said. But “the actual incidence of the batteries overheating or causing damage is extremely low.

“I would feel confident saying that you can continue using (the laptop) as long as you’re not leaving it unattended for long periods of time.”

Mark Cohen, vice-president of Vancouver-based Apple service provider DivineMac, agreed that most resellers have bigger fish to fry. “It really doesn’t manifest as commonly as other issues out on the front lines out here,” he said, adding that so far he hasn’t heard a single customer complaint about the affected Mac models.

“I don’t see this particular issue manifesting. It’s really off the radar. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but it’s small compared to other issues.”

Where Apple is more likely to have a problem is with customer perception, said Stephan Pinheiro, president of Montreal-based Mac reseller Mac911.

“They might feel a little bit awkward, a bit insecure. Most customers don’t understand the notion of OEM – that manufacturers are dependent on sub-manufacturers for certain components,” he said, referring to the fact that the battery cells are made by Sony, not Apple itself.

Apple’s preference is to handle the recall directly, but Pinheiro said he will deal with his customers’ laptop concerns personally if they bring in one of the affected models.

“It’s part of the service in this day and age. The only thing that makes us stand out is, since we don’t have a lot of margins to compete on pricing, the added value and quality of the service,” he said.

Pinheiro added that Mac users in particular have come to expect a higher level of customer service than users of other PC products.

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