By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 4:07 pm
When Apple used yesterday’s Macworld Expo keynote to confirm rumors that the new 17-inch MacBook Pro would have a sealed battery, it laid the news on the audience gingerly. The keynote included a rather lengthy video in which Apple engineers discussed the new laptop’s sophisticated battery. In between sound bites on its impressive chemistry, long life, and green characteristics, they explained that battery compartments, doors, and latches take up a lot of room, and that you can put a bigger battery into a notebook if you just seal it in.
The new MacBook Pro is the second Apple notebook with a sealed battery (last year’s MacBook Air being the first). It also joins all iPods and the iPhone. It seems entirely possible that Apple will eventually sell no products with removable batteries, starting whenever it replaces the current 13- and 15-inch MacBook designs.
While Apple’s video didn’t explicitly confront the obvious objections to a notebook design with a battery that can’t be removed, its reasoning is obvious. The primary reasons you’d want to remove a laptop’s battery are to swap in a new one for longer cord-free productivity, and because batteries lose their ability to be fully recharged over time. The company says that the 17-inch MacBook Pro runs for an impressive “up to” 8 hours on a charge, and that it can be fully recharged 1000 times, versus a few hundred times for most laptops. Therefore, historic reservations about sealed batteries are no longer an issue. Right?
Well, maybe. I’m instinctively cautious about the idea of a battery I can’t remove. (I had toted a second one with me when I liveblogged yesterday’s keynote, just in case.) But Apple’s claims about the new battery leave me willing to at least consider the notion of a sealed notebook. (I want, of course, to read what kind of battery life folks other than Apple say the new MacBook Pro has–I’ve never owned any notebook from any manufacturer that consistently came anywhere near the promised “up to” amount of life.)
That’s just me. I’m curious whether Apple’s move will have any influence on the rest of the industry. Offhand, I know of no other company that sells sealed laptops. (HP sells optional batteries based on technology from Boston Power that also promises 1000 recharges, but they’re traditional replaceable models.) One suspects that most other manufacturers will be a lot more cautious–Apple is simply bolder about making seemingly sacrilegious design decisions that other computer companies. Often for good, sometimes for worse. And I’ll bet most IT department staffers within big companies would recoil at the idea of laptops with fixed batteries.
Of course, if the new 17-inch MacBook Pro is a smash hit, all bets are off, and we might see sealed designs catch on really quickly. For now, though, I’m still thinking that a meaningful percentage of people who might otherwise be enthusiastic about a 17-inch Mac notebook will be intimidated, at least, by Apple’s decision.
How about you?