Who Needs an 8 Hour Battery Anyway?

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

Apple's new 17" MacBook Pro ships within the next couple of weeks. The biggest, most heavily advertised, new feature in these laptops is the battery: the MacBooks feature the "longest-lasting Mac notebook battery ever," lasting up to 8 hours.

To which I say: Who cares? All right, I am sure there are a few people who care (and most of them will likely post critical comments here). But they make up a very very small minority. I contend that, for the rest of us, the MacBook Pro's extended battery life is of trivial concern and, given the trade-offs involved, probably not worth the effort or expense.

Let me explain.

Who needs 8 hours?

First, MacBook sales have consistently been a shining star in Apple's financial figures, typically outperforming the sales of desktop Macs. For many users, these laptops are the owner's only computer, not a second Mac saved primarily for traveling. As such, these Macs typically function as a desktop Mac, sitting plugged into an AC outlet all day. Sure, some users may appreciate the ease with which a MacBook can be moved around the house. But even so, the laptop remains plugged in, whatever room it currently resides.

And yes, you may occasionally take your MacBook with you when you leave your house. Maybe, you take it over to a friend's house. Or maybe you take it with you on vacation or on a business trip. Regardless, most of the time it remains plugged in -- at your friend's house, your hotel room, or some conference room.

In the end, I wouldn't be surprised to find that a majority of MacBook and MacBook Pro users have never depended on their laptop's battery long enough for it to run out of power. At least not in a situation where there was no AC power available as an alternative. For these users, the new battery in the 17" MacBook Pro is almost irrelevant. They can truly say "Who cares?"

"Wait a minute," you may be saying. "Not all MacBook users fall into this group. What about students, for example, who take a laptop to class for taking notes? Don't they care about battery power?" Yes, they may. But not about the battery in a 17" MacBook Pro. Most college students will not spend the dough for this top-of-the-line model. Nor will they want the extra bulk and weight that comes with it. Much more likely, you'll see them with a 13" MacBook -- a model that doesn't have (and probably won't ever have) the battery now in the 17" MacBook Pro. So, even for these students, the response to the new battery will likely be "Who cares?"

"Hold on. What about travelers? What about people who want to use a laptop in airports or on planes? What if you want to check your email or surf the Web while in an airport waiting area? What if you want to watch a movie while on a plane? Doesn't battery power matter at these times?" Yes, it most certainly does. However, you may be able to find an outlet in the corner of a waiting area (some airports now even offer laptop charging stations). In any case, you hopefully won't be waiting for anything close to 8 hours. As for the plane ride, have you ever tried to work with a 17" MacBook Pro while seated in coach? Maybe if you're a performer for Cirque du Soleil, you could pull it off. Otherwise no. In truth, if you expect to be lugging around a laptop a lot, and using it while you're lugging, you probably want something smaller than 17". In fact, you probably don't want to depend on a laptop at all in these situations. In my case, I now use an iPhone instead. My MacBook Pro remains comfortably resting in its backpack, until I get to my destination and I plug it in.

Next, consider that the duration of a battery's charge gradually declines as the battery is used and recharged. Many people don't buy a replacement battery until the charge duration has declined to much much less than what it was when new. I know people who continue to use a battery whose charge runs out after only 15 minutes. In other words, even if you have a so-called 8-hour battery, it likely won't deliver anything close to 8 hours for most of the time you use it. Given all this, for many users, a battery that initially lasted only 5 hours, instead of 8, would be just about as satisfactory.

Who wants non-removable?

If and when you do finally decide to replace a dying battery, the new 17" MacBook Pro introduces a new hurdle: You can't replace it yourself. You have to take it to Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider for a "repair." Apple charges $179 to replace the battery. It's a "same day repair" if you take it to an Apple Store (although you need to make an appointment first, which could add an extra day or so to the process). If there is no Apple Store near where you live, you can instead mail it to Apple. Now you'll have to wait "3 - 4 business days after shipment" before you see it again. This can be an annoying delay under any circumstances. It can be especially frustrating if you have a defective battery that suddenly and unexpectedly dies, and you can't afford to wait days before getting a new one. And it's not just a new battery you'll be waiting for; you won't have your laptop at all for that duration!

That's why I much prefer being able to simply buy a new battery and replace it myself, as I can do with all the other MacBook and MacBook Pro models. Plus, the do-it-yourself battery will almost certainly be significantly cheaper. Last I checked, I could get an Apple-brand battery for my 15" MacBook Pro for less than $60 at Amazon.com. I don't expect to ever see a similar price for installing a new battery in a 17" MacBook Pro.

Lastly, after installing a new a do-it-yourself replaceable battery, you still have the old battery as a backup. You could, for example, continue to use the old battery for those times when the laptop will primarily remain connected to an outlet, saving the new battery for when you really need it. This could significantly extend the new battery's lifetime. There is no option to do this with the non-removable battery in the 17" MacBook Pro.

To sum up, most Mac laptop users have little or no need for an 8 hour non-removable battery, especially one that costs more and is more of a hassle to replace than the alternatives -- and is only available with the jumbo-sized 17" MacBook Pro model. That's why I say: Who cares?

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Comments

Josh

I find it a little weird that one justification for a “who cares” attitude is that most people plug it in all the time and don’t bother to change the battery even after its life gets down to 15 Min (my sister is one of those), but you then use the lack of ability to easily swap out the battery as another “who cares” justification.

If you are the kind of person that feels the need for a 17in MBP AND you are someone that will use it on battery only frequently, then you are probably going to appreciate the extra juice.  Not only that, but you’ll probably be replacing the machine before the 8hr battery gets down to the 15 min zone (probably before it gets down to the 5hr zone).

the 17in is not my cup of tea, but if they’ve got a 7-8hr battery in the 15in MBP when I plan to upgrade next (in 18 months or so), I’ll be happy with the extra 3 hours of battery and fine with swapping out the HD myself when that becomes necessary 3-5 years after that when the warantee has worn out and I don’t have to worry about violating it.

I see the points you are trying to make, but I just don’t see why.

Funny

The 8-hour battery is the ONLY reason I am moving from a 15 to a 17.

JamesAt15

Wow, this is a very John Dvorak-like column.

Add them to the list

Put this right up with “nobody will need more than 640k of RAM…”

Lee Dronick

Yes there are people who need long battery life and/or a number of batteries to take along. Researchers out in the field where there is no power in which to plug and those sort of tasks. In those cases there are solar chargers and stuff. When car camping I take along big 12 volt auto battery that I charge up at home and then use it with a converter to power my iBook.

Most of the airports terminals I have been in recently have charging stations for cell phones and notebook computers.

If you are in a power blackout situation and can’t charge anything your 8 hour battery is going to run out a few hours after a five hour battery.

not john

I was waiting for the 17” but with that battery it is not longer interesting for me. i have to go for the 15”. The same reason I never buy an ipod and are still hooked to my swapable battery powered zenW. I have more juice when i have two charged battery’s with me, then when i have the 8 hours battery wich will drop down to 6h in the first year. And i want to bet some money on that happening.
Replacable battery or keep your cashcow scam dudes.

xmattingly

With advances in technology, there is always going to be give and take. Here is a situation where Apple took advantage of the form factor to make a drastically longer-lasting battery than any other notebook available, but to do that they had to take away the ability to remove it. Naturally some folks are going to protest.

As pointed in the article, laptops are really representative of flexibility for a person’s lifestyle. The question with this product is, do you value the flexibility of an interchangeable battery more, or longer life away from the outlet? I think it’s totally reasonable for some folks to prefer being able to swap out their own battery, but at the same time pretty silly for anyone to balk at Apple’s $180 fee, in light of the roughly $3000 price tag.

Personally I would value the longer battery life. There are many times that I’ve taken mine out of the house without remembering an adapter, or been somewhere that I wouldn’t be able to charge it back up.

Also, I would point out that given Apple’s specs on the number of charge cycles you should expect from the new 17”, it’s very likely that most people will never need this service done if they buy brand new.

Ted Landau

Replying to Josh, re: “I see the points you are trying to make, but I just don?t see why.”

The link between the two points is this: I have no problem with an 8 hour battery per se. Heck, I’d love it if there were a 48 hour battery. If so, I’d probably leave my adapter cord at home for most short trips.

The question is: What is it worth to have the extra battery time? Given how many people don’t use a laptop in a way that makes use of the extra time, and given the added costs and hassles involved with the new battery, I felt the Pro’s much-less-than-48 hour battery wasn’t worth the cost.

prospervic

It’s interesting when a person observing a behavior in his particular environment then turns around and ascribes said behavior to “most people”.  I don’t know where Ted Landau lives, but it’s not likely in New York City, where you’ll find masses of people carrying their laptops in backpacks and briefcases (most don’t commute in cars here) for use while they are out and about.

Go into any Starbucks and virtually every other seat seat is occupied by a laptop user—the same for the Barnes and Noble cafe, and most coffee shops. What these establishments do not have is an abundance of power outlets, meaning most of their laptop toting customers are relying on battery power.

Yes, most people do not sit in Starbucks for 8 hours, but again, were talking about the behavior of big city dwellers, who may have multiple situations during the day which require them to run on battery power….these do add up!

I myself try to avoid carrying my MBP’s power brick to save weight (even 5.4 lbs starts to feel quite heaving after a few hours of subway riding, stair climbing, etc.), and have had a few instances where I regretted that choice. 

I don’t need a 17” laptop, but Apple will most likely bring this new battery technology to their 15” models, and this would be a real boon to me, and my laptop-toting brethren.

Dirt Road

Extended power outages are a fact of life in the country, and an 8-hour battery is potentially two days of use. Extended outings are a fact of life for lots of people, and if you can leave the AC adapter at home that’s one less thing to keep track of.

People who don’t want an 8-hour battery certainly can shrug and walk away. Others will want it, now they can get it. Who’s to say either of them are wrong?

rjackb

Ted,
You seem to be contradicting yourself. First, you say that the battery doesn’t matter because everyone is always plugged in. Then you gripe about not being able to remove the battery in order to replace it which implies that the battery DOES matter. Which is it?

And, have you ever really tried to plug in your charger at an airport kiosk? In my experience, it’s very rare that a receptacle is actually available. Or, if it is, that you have the time to actually use it.

I’ve owned at least 4 or 5 PowerBooks/MacBooks (as well as a few Windows laptops for work) and have NEVER replaced a battery in any of them, nor do I know of anyone who ever has, so I think that battery replacement is a bogus argument for the vast majority of people.

Khaled

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xmattingly

[quote author=“rjackb”] Ted, You seem to be contradicting yourself.

Ted summed up his point of view succinctly - reread the last paragraph.

I’m on my very first laptop (bought it this summer), so if you’re saying you’ve never had to replace a battery, that’s kind of reassuring to me. I have no doubt there are a lot of people who prefer a removable one, but given Apple’s claim to the 17” battery life span, I would wager that it be more likely Apple would discontinue support for it long before most users would need a replacement.

JulesLt

So, the question is, given that a 13” MacBook is good enough for most users, who uses 17” machines? And do those users want a long battery life?

(And I’d say that the main real world use I’ve seen of 17” MacBooks has been by photographers viewing shots in the field).

jimothy

As other people have pointed out, the people that would care about removable batteries are the same that would care about an 8-hour battery. To be tautological, if you care about batteries, you care about batteries. And if you don’t, you don’t. If you don’t use the battery, why should you care if it’s removable or not?

Regarding the cost of replacement: According to Apple, the 8-hour battery can be recharged 1,000 times, compared to 200 to 300 times for a typical battery. If its life span is three to five times longer (more, really, because you don’t have to recharge as often), is paying three times as much so bad?

I think this is like the floppy disk: People were so accustomed to it being standard equipment, that when a computer came along without it, people predicted failure. But, one day, a removable battery that needs to be replaced every 18-24 months may seem quaint. To new 17” MBP owners, that day may be today.

Ted Landau

To: rjackb; Re “You seem to be contradicting yourself.”

To reiterate, I see no contradiction here. I am not saying batteries don’t matter.  It would be great, for example, to have a solar-powered battery that eliminated all need for a power brick, lasted for days on one charge, weighed only a few ounces and was the size of a credit card. I’d want one immediately.

But such a battery does not exist. Instead, we have batteries that have numerous downsides—and we need to decide whether the advantage of a couple of extra hours of charge time is worth the cost involved. The point of my article was that, for this particular battery in this particular MacBook Pro, the benefits don’t outweigh the costs. Or, perhaps it would be better to say that it is not worth anything like the hoopla with which Apple is surrounding it.

Josh

I think the general thrust of most responses to this article consist of making the point that you are leaving an important qualifier off of your statements.  Above you write

“...the benefits don?t outweigh the costs.”

What you should have written is

“...the benefits don?t outweigh the costs, for me.”

There is nothing wrong with the second statement, it just shows that you are not the target demographic for this machine.  I agree with many of the posters above, that you left out a lot in your reasoning, but since this is essentially a piece about your own reaction to the new battery in the 17” MBP you probably left out that reasoning since it wasn’t relevant to you. 

I’m not trying to be recriminating, just pointing out my opinion on why your piece appears to have struck a nerve with some people.

jimothy

To: Ted, “re: The point of my article was that, for this particular battery in this particular MacBook Pro, the benefits don?t outweigh the costs.”

Our point is that they DO outweigh the costs, or at least, that you haven’t adequately made the case that they do not. For example, if we take “cost” literally, to mean the dollar figure, I’ve made the case there is, at worst, no additional cost, and at best, a cost savings. If the battery needs to be replaced 1/3 as often, and costs three times as much, then the buyer has broken even.

zewazir

The points of the article do not take other factors into account.  For instance, those common students using the 13 in MacBooks are not in the MBP 17” market.  Therefore longer battery life is not a draw to them.  Is longer battery life a draw to people in the 17” portable market - that is the question to answer, and I’d say that the longer battery life certainly does nothing to hurt.  Now, is the trade off of longer life for lack of user-level exchange?  That may be a tough one to answer, and may take a few years to find out for certain.

I do know this: working in a school district with 20+ portable labs certainly makes long battery life an attractive feature.  The old iBooks with 3-hour batteries - even new high capacity replacements - do not last a full day in a class of heavy use.  There is simply not enough down time to recharge, which then requires the added expense of more batteries plus an external charger.  A set of 13” MacBooks with a non-removable battery with an 8 hour life would certainly be an item worth a serious look over a 13” MacBook with a 5 hour removable battery.

Rafael Verduzco

I’ve NEVER replaced or bought a laptop battery. As long as the battery is dead (or about to die) it’s time to upgrade my laptop. It depends on usage and the computer brand, but that’s about a year or two to me.

It may sound crazy or pedantic, but by doing this I’m ensuring my tool, my toy, my work/entertainment main device is completely functional and up to date.

I recently switched to the Mac. The last laptop I had before my white MacBook was an Acer. After a year, the Acer’s battery was dead and the cost of replacing it was about half the price of the laptop. So I sold it without doubt. I won’t be investing money in a computer that is going to be dated soon. Some computers are disposable items. In a long term, obviously, but disposable.

But when it comes to a computer that costs $2799+, investing $180 on its maintenance doesn’t sound that bad.

And one day without your laptop? It’s not that much.  A day (or two) normally won’t affect you much. Keep your essential files in a USB drive and work elsewhere. It can be done. Really.

A non-removable-8-hour battery for the 13” MacBook would really be interesting, though, as zewasir says. But maybe it won’t happen soon. Making the “low price” MacBook a tougher competitor to the almighty MacBook Pro? We’ll probably see that when the MBP sports more exciting features.

rjackb

Ted said: “The point of my article was that, for this particular battery in this particular MacBook Pro, the benefits don?t outweigh the costs.”

For me, the benefit far outweighs the “cost”. For my purposes, I see no real cost whatsoever. In fact, extra long battery life is very much a deciding factor for me. So much so that I plan to buy one of these machines if I am satisfied after seeing one in person.

baby carriers backpacks

I dunno… I think I could benefit from an 8 hour battery.

At least to not have to worry about plugging into a wall socket all the time.

I say the more the merrier smile

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