13 Comments

Summary:

Barely a week into the New Year I wrote an article entitled Magic Mouse Drains Keyboard Batteries. The clue is in the title. According to reports on the Apple Support forum, people were discovering that their diminutive Apple wireless keyboards were suddenly chewing through battery life […]

Barely a week into the New Year I wrote an article entitled Magic Mouse Drains Keyboard Batteries. The clue is in the title. According to reports on the Apple Support forum, people were discovering that their diminutive Apple wireless keyboards were suddenly chewing through battery life faster than a first generation iPod in 2010. The Magic Mouse was blamed, and naturally, we wailed and gnashed our teeth.

Well, last night, Apple released version 1.1 of the Aluminum Keyboard Firmware via Software Update. And as a man almost ready to buy Energizer shares (anything to try to win back the cost of paying for high-performance batteries every week) its description sounded very promising.

“This firmware update improves battery performance of the 2007 aluminum Apple Wireless Keyboard when used in combination with other bluetooth devices (eg. Magic Mouse, some bluetooth headsets) and addresses an issue with the 2007 aluminum Apple Keyboard and the 2007 aluminum Apple Wireless Keyboard where a key may repeat unexpectedly while typing. The update also addresses other issues.”

Promises Promises; the Aluminum Keyboard Firmware Update

I can’t say I’ve ever experienced the “key repeat” problem but I most certainly have watched in dismay as my keyboard greedily depleted — in record time — every expensive battery I put in the thing. (Remember that scene in My Stepmother is an Alien when Celeste sucks the flashlight batteries dry? Exactly the same.)

Coincidence?

Not unexpectedly, the update required a restart — but that was a trifling inconvenience in return for longer battery life! In fact, it was only a few days ago I put in a fresh set of expensive Lithium batteries and I wasn’t eager to have to buy more any day soon. Imagine my surprise when the following message popped-up.

Shocking! Annoying, too. Prior to the update I could coax 9-14 days out of my batteries. The current batteries have been in for only three days and I’m being told they’re on the way out? Surely that’s no coincidence.

So what’s happening here? Bad batteries? Or could it be that Apple’s update has made things worse?

Mixed Results

I headed back to the Apple Support pages to see what was being said. The experience of other Magic Mouse / Wireless Keyboard owners is so far somewhat mixed. Here’s what Creator2456 reports:

Did the firmware update […] The keyboard also REFUSES to stay powered on after the update. Already tried several batteries so it is not a power problem. The LED will light when I press the power button and then turn off within 5 seconds without pairing or anything.

Conversely, here’s a more ebullient comment from Xorgoo:

It works ! My alu keyboard (3 batteries) is reborn! 1% lost during the night, compare to 10% before.

And then there’s this warning from Freekarrot:

This update won’t work on recent 2-cell AWKs, which are heavily affected by the bug as well. Letting out an update just for one of the affected devices is ridiculous. It means they know what the problem is and how it is solved, but they either don’t know or refuse to acknowledge that ALL AWKs are affected!

Conspiracy theories aside, I really don’t know what to make of this sort of incompatibility. (I’m not sure what else to call it — ‘Not Playing Nicely Together-ness” doesn’t sound very smart; perhaps “malfunction” is better?)  I understand Apple doesn’t develop its own Bluetooth drivers (that responsibility is left to Broadcomm, the manufacturers of all Bluetooth radios in Apple’s machines) but even so, for their own equipment to behave in such a flaky, unreliable manner really isn’t the ‘Apple Way’ to which I have become accustomed. It’s all supposed to ‘Just Work’, right?

Think about it; if Microsoft were to build a bluetooth keyboard and mouse that, individually, worked just fine but, together, played very silly games with battery-life, we would be so quick to tut-tut and shake our heads. We would chuckle, too, adding ever-so-smugly (in the manner many Mac-heads are wont to do when commenting on Windows-PC-based problems) “Well, what do you expect from Microsoft?”

Just prior to the Firmware update, the now-very-happy Xorgoo complained;

More Than 100 days, more than 300 posts, and… nothing.
Apple, you have to do something.
And you should at least give us some news.
Do you think time will cure the trouble ? It won’t…

Well, Apple has done something. We now we have an update, but judging from my own initial experience and fresh comments on the Apple support pages, problems remain. Of course, one is a poor sample — my batteries may have already been too far-gone to benefit from the updated firmware. Maybe.

So now it’s over to you. Have you tried updating your firmware? Has it made any sort of difference? Share your findings with me in the comments below. And please… no comments about how we should ditch our Apple keyboards. I don’t care how shiny your Logitech is.

  1. Two words: rechargeable batteries. I’ve used the same collection of a dozen or so for years. Huge savings.

    Share
  2. my old three-battery wireless keyboard never had a battery issue and might have done the non-responsive thing once or twice in the year that i’ve had it. it’s on 10 hours a day and i replace the batteries every four months. it’s been used with the old wireless mouse and the new magic mouse since it was released.

    there’s no discernible difference with the new firmware.

    the people having issues most likely have a bad hardware revision or a bad batch of components. :(

    Share
  3. Well I got my new 21.5″ iMac back in october and my keyboard is on the original set of batteries and they are at 81% currently. So I think I might just skip this update for now

    Share
  4. Rechargeables rule. I haven’t upgraded my pocket camera because the Panasonic I want – uses a proprietary battery. I refuse to buy just about any battery-powered device if I can’t use my favorite rechargeable Eneloops. AA or AAA.

    Share
  5. Rechargeables! Sony has a charger that not only recharges but refreshes the batteries. (it’s not so hard to be green;)
    The firmware update does NOT require a restart (the Security Update DOES).
    So far so good…

    Share
    1. The firmware update DID require a restart, not when applying the ‘software update’ but after the keyboard firmware app did its thing, it wanted to reboot.

      I didn’t have battery issues before and still don’t (but I’m using it with a mighty mouse).

      Share
  6. I did the keyboard firmware update only (this morning) and a restart was required. (I did the security update several days ago). I have only been using the new firmware for the day – but my battery levels on my magic mouse and keyboard have stayed the same. I recommend rechargeable batteries. They have a shorter life than the non-rechargeables but you can recharge them over and over.

    Share
    1. update:
      After more than a day’s use, the battery levels haven’t gone down – usually I would see a several percent decline each day. So far so good.

      Share
  7. Another reason I really love this blog- you guys aren’t as intoxicated with koolaid as TUAW is. I go to TUAW for news- I come here for articles and editorials. The content is so much better on TAB. Anyone can report news, but not everyone can inject analysis in a clear and helpful way.

    Kudos!

    Share
  8. I have a March 2009 Mac Mini using bluetooth Al keyboard (the 3 batt one) and Magic Mouse and have downloaded the update. I had experienced no issues before and no issues now.

    If Microsoft released some hardware that didn’t work well, yep, very little would be said. I have some Microsoft keyboards and mice (was not cheap) and if Apple released them there would be complaining and whinging from all corners, even people who hadn’t bought them. Maybe people expect the best from Apple and mediocre from Microsoft.

    Share
  9. My 2007 Al Wireless just turned 2 years old last week. I get anywhere from 1-3 months of battery life…and i’m not a light user of it…

    Share
  10. I have both 3 battery and 2 battery wireless keyboards that I use with one wireless Apple mouse ( 2007 era ).

    I go through batteries about a set a week in both. The life of NiMH rechargeable and the Alkaline is about the same.

    The software updates ( both the recent one for the 2009 2-batt and the 2007 3 batt) installed successfully but I saw no improvement ( + or – 1/2 day ).

    Note that sue both keyboards with a late 2009 MacBook Pro and a 2007 Mac Mini. Same result — they eat batteries weekly.

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post