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HEARD ON THE BEAT

Xtend Fixes Up Some Plane Food for Hungry Laptops

May 12, 1997|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

So many laptops, so little compatibility.

There are so many "mobile computing units"--largely in the hands of business execs and salespeople who travel the globe--that several major airlines are adding on-board power ports so laptop users can plug in during flights and save their batteries.

But laptop computer makers use a wide variety of connectors for their external power plugs and even airline power ports use two different types of plugs. Irvine-based power products maker Xtend Micro Products Inc. is poised to take advantage of this incompatibility.

Xtend, which has been making car adapters, batteries and chargers for laptops, last week announced that it has the only FAA-approved power adapters for airline use.

It wasn't a breeze to do, says Xtend founder and president Mark Rapparport. Xtend had to come up with more than 200 separate adapters to accommodate the various power ports on laptops, the different power demands of laptops and the two types of power ports used by airlines.

Each has a universal plug on one side that will adjust to fit either of the aircraft ports. On the other side is a cable fitted with a plug that fits a specific brand and model of laptop. In the middle is a microprocessor-driven unit that protects against shortages and power spikes and senses the voltage demand of the laptop and adjusts the output from the airplane power source to match.

(The aircraft power units put out 15 volts, but some laptops operate at higher voltage, and some use less. If the power isn't adjusted, the laptop wouldn't work.)

Rapparport says the adapters, to be priced below $100, also will power a laptop from an automobile cigarette lighter and double as a battery charger when the computer is turned off.

Xtend started shipping its airline power adapters to corporate clients last week. Rapparport says major retailers should have them in stock by the end of the month, although there are so many varieties that many stores won't stock the full line. Instead, stores will have a display and take special orders.

John O'Dell can be reached at (714) 966-5831 and at john.odell@latimes.com.

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