Ostensibly the Energi to Go external iPod battery, designed to run off two of Energizer's AA Lithium e2 batteries, is meant to add as many as 46 hours of playing time between charges for iPods. In reality, Kelvin Belle, Energizer's senior product manager, expects many people will use it to power iPods whose internal batteries have stopped working, conceivably extending their life for years.
Batteries have been, depending on one's viewpoint, either iPod's Achilles' heel or a diabolically clever bit of planned obsolescence. Once the batteries won't take a charge anymore, often after about two years, iPod owners' only recourse is to buy a new iPod or send their old units back to Apple for factory replacement, with no guarantee they'll get their original iPod back.
"I don't want to imply that there's some planned obsolescence in there, but the fact is, if you can't change the battery, and the battery goes, you pretty much need a new unit," said Roger Kay, president of the consulting firm Endpoint Technology Associates.
He doubts many people need the Energizer charger to extend playing time, noting that he can get 6.5 hours of nearly nonstop use from his on cross-country flights. But at a suggested retail price of $29.99, he can envision interest from people who would use the Energizer product to extend the life of battery-dead iPods.
The iPod battery, set to launch in October, is the latest in a series of products that have helped give Energizer Holdings a jump on its bigger rival, Procter & Gamble Co.'s Duracell.
Energizer has been gaining on Duracell in its core alkaline business, but it also has opened up faster-growing territory where Duracell has yet to compete, including lithium batteries for high-drain digital devices such as cameras, a line of Energi to Go portable cellphone chargers launched and now the iPod product.
For the second quarter through June 17, Energizer's alkaline-battery sales were up only 1%, but its growth was driven by the "all other batteries" category, including lithium and rechargeables, such as Energi to Go, where sales were up 13%, according to Information Resources Inc. data from Morgan Stanley.
Energizer has a 63% share of the specialty-battery categories, nearly double its 32% share in alkaline batteries, which also has higher margins than the more price-competitive alkaline business. The external iPod battery could help extend that specialty-battery business.
Rob Enderle, principal of the Enderle Group, a consulting firm, noted that using the Energizer battery at home or other places where having an external battery plugged in won't be inconvenient also can extend the life of the original iPod battery "almost indefinitely."
Apple's newly released iPhone uses the same external power plug as the iPod, but Energizer isn't sure yet that its iPod product will work with the iPhone or whether it will develop a product for the iPhone, Mr. Belle said.
Marketing plans for the iPod battery aren't complete yet, but Energizer may benefit from the iPhone hype, at least once it dies down some.
"We were originally planning to catch the wave [of iPhone publicity]," said Ann Balsamo, VP of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Weber Shandwick Worldwide, which is working on the launch, "but then we decided we might get swamped by it."
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