Are more integrated batteries in Apple’s future?

30 01 2009

At Macworld, Apple rolled out a a few things. Among them was the new 17-inch MacBook Pro. This new MacBook Pro is about the same size and weight as the old model. It has the same black-bordered, glossy screen and unibody enclosure as the new MacBook and 15-inch MacBook Pro. The big thing that separates this 17-inch computer from its predecessor is the fact that it has built in battery that cannot be removed by the end user without opening the case and voiding the warranty. According to what Apple is saying, this allows for a maximum battery life of eight hours per charge and allows the battery to be charged three times more than their older laptop batteries.

So, let’s weigh the pros and cons, shall we? We get increased battery strength and overall life in exchange for the loss of the convenience of being able to put in a new battery without needing to recharge. Many professionals make a habit of carrying an extra laptop battery or two, especially in cases where they will not be able to recharge, like when taking a trip or flying on an airplane. For these people, the lack of an easily removable battery could very well be a deal-breaker. For me, this would not be a problem, as I rarely find myself away from an electrical outlet for any meaningful length of time. The deal-breaker for me in this case is the price; the 17-inch MacBook Pro starts at $2,800. But that is beside the point. Is the 17-inch MacBook Pro for everyone? No, certainly not. It is for everyone no more than the MacBook Air is for everyone.

Apple tends to make certain design decisions that are controversial in the beginning and that controversy can linger for years, despite compromises and refinements in that decision. One example would be Apple’s decision in 1998 to make a desktop consumer-level computer without a floppy drive, the first iMac. This was a pretty big deal when it happened. But then media got cheaper and cheaper and the variety of USB-connected storage media grew so much that everyone abandoned the floppy drive. Apple makes a habit of trying out a feature on one of its computers and often expands that feature to the rest of its lineup over the course of several months. I believe that we will begin to see more integrated batteries in Apple’s laptops. It started with the MacBook Air, then the 17-inch MacBook Pro. How long will it be before we start to see this feature pop up in the 15-inch MacBook Pro or the MacBook?

I do not believe that Apple could get away with making the integrated battery a standard feature on all of its laptops, ceratainly not the 15-inch MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro is a professional laptop and, as I stated earlier, many professionals like to swap out the battery rather than waiting for it to charge. This would be a feature better suited for the MacBook, where people will not mind so much about getting two or three extra hours out of a battery charge, then being tethered to a wall for an hour. Personally, I would love to have a 4.5-pound MacBook with six or seven hours of battery life. I really only needed to swap out the battery in my current MacBook after it reached the end of its life.

So, as with most of Apple’s decisions, the decision to integrate the battery into a laptop is one that will not make everyone happy. I believe it is a solution better suited to its smaller, consumer notebooks. The MacBook Air needs an integrated battery simply because it does not have enough internal space to accomated all of the connectors and latching mechanisms associated with removable batteries. The 13-inch MacBook could use it because the average consumer who buys the MacBook would probably not mind the integrated battery as much as a professional would and would greatly benefit from the extended battery life. It is my opinion that the integrated laptop battery is here to stay.

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