Who Needs an 8 Hour Battery Anyway?

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?