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Summary:

Well, the Macworld keynote has come and gone, and we received a lot of new software from Apple, but not too much on the hardware side. In fact, the long-awaited missing unibody MacBook Pro is the only machine to come out of the event. But it […]

Well, the Macworld keynote has come and gone, and we received a lot of new software from Apple, but not too much on the hardware side. In fact, the long-awaited missing unibody MacBook Pro is the only machine to come out of the event. But it might not be the laptop itself which becomes the biggest headline. In fact, the notebook’s battery is much more deserving of attention.

As rumored, the 17-inch MacBook Pro will have a built-in, non-removable battery (or not removable without major surgery, at least) when it ships later this month. The reason for the battery being locked in, rather than switchable? According to Phil Schiller and Apple’s engineering department, the new design increases space efficiency immensely, allowing the 60% boost in battery life Apple is claiming for the new laptop. That’s 8 hours (or 7 running the dedicated graphics card), compared to only 5 claimed for the last gen Pro.

There’s also the shape of the batteries. Using lithium-polymer instead of a straighforward lithium-ion, as do most current notebooks, Apple engineers were able to change the shape of the battery cells. Lithium-ion batteries necessitate a cylindrical shape for their cells, but the new lithium polymer allows for thinner, more sensible shapes that better fit the space allotted in the new ultraslim aluminum MacBook Pro case.

Finally, the chemical makeup of the batteries themselves is new, and along with a new chip that improves communication between battery cells and the computer, this allows for a greatly expanded battery life. Apple is claiming a lifespan of up to 1,000 charging cycles (complete charge and discharge of the notebook battery), compared to between 200 to 300 for existing Apple batteries. If true, the lifespan of the new battery would far exceed that of existing notebooks, both Apple and non-Apple. According to Apple’s own calculations, this puts the outside range of the new batteries at 5 years, which, they also point out, means less waste, and a more environmentally friendly product.

There is an obvious downside to all of this, namely that you can’t do a quick switch-out of the battery on your own. Instead, Apple will offer a takeback and replacement program in case you should require a new battery. That also means you can’t stock more than one of the device’s batteries for quick replacement on the fly when you’re away from a power source for an extended period of time. Arguably, the much longer battery life decreases the need for this sort of thing, but we all know that manufacturer estimates of battery life are usually incredibly optimisitic, so there’s still the possibility that this thing won’t provide true all-day computing yet.

I’m most interested to see how long it takes the new tech to make it’s way down the line into the more reasonably priced Apple laptops, and how people react to the new, locked-in form factor. Personally, I prefer to depend on Apple’s help as little as possible once the computer’s on my hands, so I’m not thrilled about the design. What about you?

  1. I agree with Darrell. I’m not so keen on Apple locking in the batteries. They are basically going down the line of the iPod series with their Laptops. However, I don’t know about many other people, but I’ve never actually found the need really to remove the battery. :S However, as a computer techy I like to have access to certain things…one being the battery.

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  2. +1 to Darrell’s stance. I just replaced my 15-inch MBP battery after going through the 300-cycle lifespan in just under a year. So by their estimate, I would get roughly 2 1/2 years out of the locked-in internal battery…hardly the optimistic five years they estimate. I feel that laptops of this size are not scrutinized as stringently for long battery life like netbooks or smaller form factor laptops are, so I question the need for such an advancement. With discrete graphics and such a huge display, the MBP aren’t meant to spend entire days away from a wall outlet anyway due to their lack of portability.

    A better option would have been to offer high-capacity batteries that are user replaceable, so that the users themselves can make the ultimate decision on how important battery life is to them, rather than have the decision be made for them.

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  3. Put me on the list of those who disagree.

    If Apple offered to take my existing unibody 13″ MacBook, and cram a custom-made, new-technology battery in there that would:

    – increase laptop battery life by a whopping 60 percent,
    – increase overall battery life by 3X,
    – make the device even more solid and sturdy,
    – add NO size or weight,

    and the only “downside” was that it wasn’t swappable, I’d take them up on that offer in a heartbeat. A heartbeat.

    The vast majority of people live with whatever battery life is supplied in the thing out of the box. They do not buy or carry extra batteries (in fact, it’s kind of silly to talk about size and weight if you must do so). Give me the most OOB life as you can while still making the machine small and light.

    I suspect there’ll be howl of protest over this, but I sure wish they’d offer to do it for my MacBook. I’d love it.

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  4. [...] battery technology. This new technology increases battery size by 40 percent, and battery life by a whopping 60 [...]

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  5. I’m fine with it. I haven’t bought or needed a spare battery since having a PowerBook G3.

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  6. Tom:

    While you present a very convincing argument for integrated batteries for the Macbook, and while it certainly seems likely that Apple will present a trickle-down approach to their integrated battery scheme as they have with other technologies, I feel the question at present is whether this is viable or appropriate for the Macbook PRO.

    I am perhaps overgeneralizing when I say that the Macbook is primarily targeted at a more mainstream consumer base, but the general trend in my experience is that those people who buy macbooks are looking for a certain combination of price, performance, and weight. Under these circumstances, an integrated battery does not seem so far out of the question, due to the fact that these users will typically either a) never reach the cycle limit of the battery before they upgrade to a newer unit, or b) be willing to pay for the service cost of replacement of the internal battery when the time comes.

    However, the MBP is targeted (and the key word being TARGETED) at the prosumer/professional level, where a different sort of demand is being placed on the machines. Larger displays and discrete graphics both add up to higher energy usage, and there is an implicit expectation that these machines will spend a majority of their useful life attached to a power outlet. For the times that they do leave the socket, a MBP’s usage will result in lower overall battery life due to these additional factors, and thus a need to recharge more often. While this may not mean much in the short term, if you go through a charge cycle a day (which I often did, being an active student), 1000 cycles does not seem a fair exchange (even with a promise of higher capacity for each of those charges) for the loss of productivity later on when the internal battery finally gives out.

    Granted, I may not be considered a “typical” user, and my frequent time off the charger has left me considering a netbook for lighter-processing, increased mobility work. I also don’t enjoy shelling out $110 for a new battery every year. But I also like the freedom of being able to replace my battery when I need to at my own convenience via the nearest major electronics chain, and remain resolute in thinking that this move is not the wisest for the Macbook PRO, though it may have merit for their other consumer-aimed products.

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    1. ………WELL STATED

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  7. This strikes me as a move pretty similar to the decision to kill off firewire on the Macbook. There’s a small number of people that will be adversely affected by this issue, another small number of people who won’t but will be vocal about it anyway, and tons of people who just won’t care.

    I think the tradeoff is great. Way more battery life, which I would totally use, and no removable battery (I have yet to buy a spare battery for any laptop, or phone, camera, or anything I can think of, actually).

    Jared, you said it yourself, it’s implied that for the vast majority of their lives plugged into the wall. So then you unplug and you get 8 hours of life. Sounds good to me, so what’s the big deal? Why give those people less battery life and force them to buy more batteries for those rare occasions? For the traveler who A) Flies oversees a bunch and B) Doesn’t have an outlet in his or her plane seat, there are a some options for aftermarket external batteries to boost the life.

    If your battery is dying every year, surely applecare would replace it. That’s unusual behavior, eh?

    @Darrell you said that “we all know that manufacturer estimates of battery life are usually incredibly optimisitic”. Hasn’t Apple changed their tune there? Ever since the Air came out ,their estimates became a lot more accurate, basing assumptions on normal use, not some strange dreamworld where we don’t have the display turned on and don’t type.

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  8. The 1,000 recharges is definitely a plus, but it’s not the only notebook battery with that capability. HP announced a deal with Boston Power last month that offer the same 1,000 recharges before capacity begins to degrade. They should only cost $30 more than standard batteries and they can be charged to 80% capacity in a half-hour. http://jkontherun.com/2008/12/10/boston-power-hp/

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  9. Everyone can relax…I’m fairly certain that some 3rd party manufacturer will start selling “MagSafe-compatible Batteries” that will recharge the hardwired batteries on the go.

    I Guarantee It…

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  10. As you have rightly pointed out the downside of this built in non-removable design is that its not easy to change batteries by the user. For a user like me who lives in a remote part of India where the nearest apple store is over-night train journey away, built in non-removable battery model is no way user friendly.

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