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New MacBook Pro Battery: More, Longer, but Locked In

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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?

31 Responses to “New MacBook Pro Battery: More, Longer, but Locked In”

  1. Tim Naylor

    It’s a total dick move on Apple’s part. It makes me want to run my current 1st gen MBP to the ground until Apple comes to their senses. Mac continues to take the “pro” out of MBPro. Removing the express 34 from the 15″ was huge mistake, especially for pros like me who work in media. We need the super fast read/write speeds of ESata. Sorry, FW 800 doesn’t cut it after you tasted the speed of RAID 0 E Sata. Now getting rid of replacement battery is totally ass backward. If your a pro user you will find yourself working more than an 8 hour day away from power. If you work for an NGO, on a film set, or trying to write in your hunting lodge, etc. 8 hours is ridiculous. With my old school MBP, I have a second battery for those remote jobs.

    Every revision, Mac is emasculating their pro to one step closer to consumer. Mac should realize the praise and accolades true pro users wax on about macs goes a long ways for big publicity. It’s like race car drivers for Porshe. I just met a top designer for IBM’s high performance division. Basically, he designs computers that break records. He told me he wouldn’t work for IBM if they didn’t let him use a mac. The room fell silent. It was the best advertising they can get. Word of mouth from a credible pro at the top of the top. Then in the next beat, he bitched about the new MBP’s for their regressive features.

    Stop blowing it.

  2. ken perkins

    When I heard the macbook pro didn’t have a replaceable battery I couldn’t believe it. apple you are a joke. Do you ever see anyone happy at a apple store? Do you think the guy behind the desk is a genius? Do you find it hard that when you buy an apple product its a windows pos system their using? Do you really want to now have to go to an apple store to replace your battery and hand them all your private data? Lol, I have an apple, I don’t want to switch back to a pc, but man, apple is such a joke. Yes, I read all the comments and arguments about the positives about SEALED TECHNOLOGY, but give me a break, if their engineers made such “great” software including the rainbow wheel, don’t you think they could muster up a replaceable battery that had an awesome charge? Of course not, they want to seal the deal so you have to come in to have it changed and knock out anyone who tries to make a better product.

  3. Your battery should be just fine even if your laptop plugged into a wall all of the time. Just be sure to discharge it sometimes and calibrate it once a month or so. Eventually, you’ll end up buying a new battery or even a new laptop, so who cares. Do what you can to take care of it and deal with it.

    I’m loving my 13in unibody MBP :P


  4. How did everyone fail to mention removing the battery while plugged into a power source, in order to extend total lifetime of the battery? When I’m at home and near a power source, I always have the battery removed. This has extended my battery life way beyond what you’d expect.

  5. stoneman

    Remove battery and power adapter.
    Hold down power button for 10 seconds.
    Reinstall battery and attach power adapter.
    Hold down Command-Option-P-R, a total of four keys, and press power button. Don’t release the keys.
    Continue holding the four keys until you hear the startup sound twice, then release
    How are we supposed to reset power management now ?????????(can’t remove the battery)!!!!!!!!!!

  6. zozman

    I want the removable feature of the battery. Instead of buying a unibody MacBook Pro, I found a new late 2008 model and bought that one for my wife. I have two now. There will be battery issues involved with a locked-in battery. zoz

  7. macman99

    i don’t want to be under the mercy of the mac shop , i have the 13-inch macbook unibody ,i loved it to the point i started considering switching to mac OS on my desk tops and all over , but now i am thinking it might be my last mac if they don’t return to their censes.
    did u ask how much this replacement would be ?
    how long it takes ?
    if u take care of your laptop you usually can use it for years which means a couple of batteries
    the only way i would think this is worth it if the integrated battery lasts 24 hours with apple’s guarantee that it will last me for 5 years or they change it for free , which they don’t
    ever wonder how come macbook pro is now cheaper ? they know that they will be making money off the battery exchange
    a real corporate greedy dick move from apple

  8. If the original battery fit fine, and there were no enhancements that required the additional space, I just don’t buy the idea that Apple couldn’t come up with a way to make the new slimmer battery removable. It already occupies less space, and the contacts shouldn’t be an issue. Can anyone tell me why a removable polymer battery would not be doable? I cannot think of a single reason.

    Seems to me Apple is interested in shutting out third party battery suppliers for all of its products. Now I’m torn. I love the unibody 13″ Macbook and I’d like the newer 13″ Pro, but that non-removable battery irks me. My only option is to bring the Macbooks to a local Apple authorized shop to have the battery replaced, and I don’t like handing our laptops over to anyone.

  9. Onewhaleid

    I like to take the battery out of my 17″ mbp when it’s on my desk. It improves the ventilation quite a bit, keeping the machine running cooler (and quieter). I think the fixed battery will make for a very warm computer :)

  10. Blueuniform

    I recently went on a trip with my mac laptop. The battery was lasting only about 20 minutes on full charge. Where I was attending a conference, they had auditorium seating, with no available outlets. So, for the entire week, I searched around and called everywhere, and no one stocked a mac laptop battery! I really wanted to buy a new battery during that trip, but was unable to. Everyone wanted to “order” me one. No, there was no apple store within 500 miles. When an apple battery goes, it goes. So, for this argument, I strongly agree that the battery needs to be able to be swapped out with another one.

  11. Apple needs to do something about their battery issues. I went to the Apple store today with our MBP that would shut down on its own with plenty of power still showing.

    We unfortunately would unplug and plug in the MBP whenever we were done with it. Most of the time with 1/2 to 3/4 charge still on the battery. We didn’t know that every time we plugged it in, a “cycle” was recorded. Apple says that because there are 350 “cycles” recorded the we have worn out the battery and now have to buy a new one. What a joke. The computer has very little use.

    • I really like Apple, got a Macbook Pro 17 (2006), 4 ipods, an ipod touch 32G, a 13 inches unibody… Planned to buy a new macbook pro… BUT, the enclosed battery isn’t something I like at all. Recently my Macbook Pro 17 inches (2006)’s battery (2nd one) behaved the same way as Jim’s one abruptly shutting down the machine. Becareful cause… after 1 month of this behavior, it expanded. the fact is that, at least it expanded outside the machine thanks to its removable nature. Apple didn’t wanna do anything since it was out of warranty (what I could understand) BUT they told me that’s something that could happen (justifying their inaction with respect to this particular/unusual issue – at least from my point of view…). Actually, if it’s considered to happen I hope they don’t mean that it could in the new ENCLOSED ones…cause this time the damage could be more severe. 2 things to be said from my side: what would happen if we’re still using our machines plugged in after the battery life time… is dangerous?… The second one is… Must we stop working with our machine waiting for them to come back from changing the batteries…?

  12. This seems like a questioable idea. Many people have said they never change their battery. I have a 17″ MBP and just had to buy a new battery for $129 because the machine would randomly do a hard shut down with a power level listed between 10 and 50%.
    That was 480 cycles in only 22 months.

  13. They are obviously very confident about this new battery. I think they need to put there money where there mouth is!

    “Longer-lasting battery in 17-inch MacBook Pro.
    longer battery life

    The removable batteries in most notebooks are designed to be replaced every year or two, which means lots of batteries are used up and discarded. But the battery in the new 17-inch MacBook Pro lasts up to five years — or 1000 recharges. So it uses just one battery in the same time a typical notebook uses three.*

    *Apple does not warrant the battery beyond Apple’s one-year Limited Warranty. The battery has a limited number of charge cycles and may eventually need to be replaced by an Apple Service Provider. Battery life and charge cycles vary by use and settings. See for more information.”

  14. 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.

  15. 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…

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. +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.

  20. 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.