News headlines announcing battery recalls are a familiar sight in recent months. The latest PC maker to acknowledge problems with laptop batteries is Acer -- and the manufacturer at fault, once again, is Sony.
Six months ago, Acer said laptop PC users would not need to replace any batteries, but a company subsidiary announced a recall for 27,000 batteries in the U.S. on Wednesday in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The voluntary program for the replacement of lithium-ion batteries containing Sony-made cells was issued after Acer discovered that the batteries can overheat, posing a fire hazard risk to consumers.
The small unit number and the fact that it's been several months since the first round of recalls leads IDC analyst Richard Shim to believe that the impact on consumers and the industry, going forward, will be minimal.
"The battery recalls haven't stunted shipment growth in the notebook industry overall, which was a big concern when Dell, Sony, Toshiba, and Apple were issuing recalls," Shim explained. "The industry is working hard to avoid halting the growth engine in the notebook market."
A String of Recalls
As Shim mentioned, Acer is the latest in a string of PC manufacturers to announce battery recalls. So far, there have been 16 reports of notebook batteries overheating. However, none of those incidents were associated with Acer. These previous reports involved only minor property damage and two minor burns.
Dell was the first PC maker to fall prey to the poor publicity surrounding the issue. Dell recalled 4.1 million lithium-ion batteries after several dangerous incidents involving notebooks that burst into flames. It was one of the largest recalls in consumer-electronics history and impacted Dell's earnings and stock prices.
Dell's woes were followed by other recalls from Lenovo and Sony. In all, more than 9.6 million laptop PC batteries have been recalled. Acer's recall is relatively minor in comparison to previous issues, and is limited to TravelMate and Aspire brand notebook PCs sold in the U.S. between May 2004 and November 2006. Acer has posted a list of the affected PCs on the AcerBatteryRecall.com Web site.
"Consumers should stop using these recalled batteries immediately and contact Acer to receive a free replacement battery. Consumers can continue to use the notebook computers safely by turning the system off, removing the battery, and using the AC adapter and power cord to power the system until the replacement battery is received," Acer said in a statement.
When Will It Ever End?
Will there be additional laptop battery recalls? IDC's Shim said he wouldn't be surprised, and noted that the recalls are of particular concern for companies such as Acer that target the consumer market heavily. "On the commercial side, I.T. departments have relationships with OEMs and can get faulty batteries replaced in huge batches," he explained. "On the consumer side, you have to worry about awareness."
Because the batteries are widely distributed, there is the possibility that this is not the end of the battery recalls, but Shim said he is confident that the manufacturers will continue to seek out potential issues to avoid a major incident that could stymie the growth of the notebook industry.