When you are the world's biggest PC maker, your problems tend to be on the large scale when they hit. Such is the case of what the US Consumer Products Safety Commission is calling the biggest recall in the history of the consumer electronics industry.
The problem is that a batch of lithium-ion batteries made by Sony and installed in Dell notebooks between April 2004 and July 18th this year could, err, explode in flames after just a couple minutes of usage.
Given the potential danger that such a scenario could cause in the office or at home, let alone if you happened to be using your laptop on an airplane at the time, I am bemused and worried in equal measure that none of the other manufacturers using the same Sony batteries have issued a recall. What is the difference between Dell and Toshiba and Lenovo for example? The fact that it has taken so long for this recall to actually happen, when rumors regarding battery safety have been circulating for many months, is also worrying. Sure, it is not going to be a cheap exercise and some analysts reckon it could cost Dell as much as $300 million: but what price can you put on saving your customers from serious injury?
Of course, this is not the first time that Dell have been hit by battery problems. In 2001 they recalled 284,000 batteries for a potential overheating and fire hazard problem, and another 22,000 batteries for the same reason in 2005. All of which leaves me feeling rather uncomfortable about using a laptop where the name suggests.
What's more, it leaves me wondering just what needs to be done in terms of battery development to eliminate such a fire risk. Perhaps it is our own fault. In demanding ever more powerful portable machines, to the point of the term portable becoming debatable, we are pushing the power supply requirement beyond what can be delivered safely. Think about how little batteries have really developed over the last decade, and it becomes obvious that either a lot more R&D investment needs to be made, or we need to re-evaluate our demands upon portable computing.
If you have one of the following models, or have been issued a replacement battery within the timeframe, you could be at risk:
When the Firestone recall happened, how many tires actually failed? About 10, maybe? And they had to recall a substantial number of tires, far more than 10.
Sony is the issue here-- they're the ones that supplied the batteries. Watch other manufacturers end up doing the same type of recall. It's kind of like the bloated capacitors thing that happened in recent years-- one manufacturer screwed up, and then HP, IBM, Dell, and several other manufacturers had to bite the bullet and do recalls.
Personally, I'd be more concerned if a company identified exploding/fire-prone batteries and didn't issue a recall.
As alc6379 says, at least Dell are taking action on the issue. But my concern remains, whether finger pointing at Dell or Sony or anyone else, that the number of battery recalls for fire related problems over the last few years is way too high.
Why is battery technology so far behind the rest of IT when it comes to new developments? Is it just a funding issue, or have batteries hit some kind of technology advancement wall and it is going to take a huge leap to move up to the next generaton?