Is the World Ready For Sealed Notebook Batteries? Are You?

By  |  Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 4:07 pm

17-inch MacBook ProWhen 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?


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23 Comments For This Post

  1. Ian D. Nock Says:

    The problem for me is not about being able to tote a second battery for longevity – I never really do, preferring to have a long enough life already or be near a charger. I have second batteries, but that is only because I have gone out to buy the longer life battery so I still have the original, or I have an older laptop where the battery life has dropped considerably and decided to replace it. Apple have solved (I think) the lifetime issue and the longevity issue so most people will not notice…

    However, with all these Li-Ion batteries knocking around in my house, I now have suffered the first bloater – a battery that has gone faulty and ballooned in size in preparation for a most spectacular explosion. I have removed the battery from my old Windows Smartphone and placed it somewhere safe (as in out in the garden away from anything in preparation for disposal properely). You will not be able to do that with this one, and also if you do have a burner then your laptop will be toast without the possibility of you quickly pulling and throwing the battery like a hand grenade.

    So that is my problem.

    Also this is complete bull about the batteries being able to be made smaller if they are not removable… that is simply lazy design and engineering.

  2. David Says:

    Other than to install memory or replace a hard drive, I have never taken the battery out of my macbooks/powerbooks. Carrying a spare takes up too much space/weight. So I’d be fine with a sealed battery, as long as they can swap it at a genius bar in a reasonable period of time.

  3. James Says:

    Yeah – um. No. Not if there’s another alternative (that being the rub, of course). I’m already on my third battery for my existing MBP (in just over a year), and if it had been $179 a pop, well.. ouch. Notebook batteries fade over time, battery life is NEVER as long as advertised, and a second battery is critical for long flights or extended use away from AC.

    Even for an Apple fan, this feels like a pretty transparent money grab marketed as ‘engineering’.

    Just my $.02.

  4. Ian Says:

    Well, for the spare power guys, maybe an external power pack can be plugged in instead, power your laptop either from another battery and/or solar power. The extra equipment might not be so significantly more than the current power adaptor or battery option.

  5. Eric Says:

    I just bought a replacement battery for my 6 year old 12″ G4 Powerbook. If the batteries in Apple’s new line-up last as long I think the majority of people will be fine with it. I’d love to know that I could get a solid 5+ hours of real work out of a battery without worrying.

  6. Dave Barnes Says:

    I own an AirBook.
    Last time I checked — no battery that was able to be replaced by me.
    Umm. Kool-Aid. Tasty. But, only if you use sugar (dextrose).

  7. Arnold Says:

    I have a 2001 iPod (5 gigs, baby). I haven’t tried it recently, but even after 5 years it was still getting 80-90% of an original full charge, which itself was slightly more generous than the “10 hours” Apple quoted at the time. People screamed bloody murder about iPod batteries back then, but I still don’t actually know anybody with a dead iPod battery.

    I haven’t really paid attention to laptop batteries in recent years, but if it’s as high-tech as their iPod batteries (and I know most laptops aren’t), I don’t see the problem.

    Besides, for people who really don’t mind a bigger laptop for more battery, I’m sure every Mac accessory maker is right now sketching designs for an external battery pack which plugs into the Magsafe jack.

  8. Lance Jungmeyer Says:

    I don’t like it. With an expensive piece of hardware, you want to be able to replace what makes it run, if you need to.

    If you someone tried to sell a car that had sealed on tires, I don’t think that would be so good either.

  9. Jackson Says:

    I don’t think I could deal with a sealed battery in a Dell or Lenovo. Apple might be different because I should just be able to take it to the Apple store and have them swap it out.

    I replace the battery in my MBP about once a year. If it lasts two years instead of one then there is no price difference.

  10. xjust Says:

    if it lasts 5 years like they say i dont think there is a reason to worry 🙂

  11. joecab Says:

    I don’t care, especially with the longer battery life. We are just all conditioned to having removable batteries because that’s how it was since the beginning, when they couldn’t hold much of a charge, and that’s no longer the case. Kind of a gutsy move on Apple’s part, but that’s what you need every once in a while to get some real evolution going for a greater good.

  12. John Cip Says:

    It would be wonderful to have a battery that does what it suppose to do. To charge a computer (or an iPhone) for a long period of time over and over again is a great idea in theory. In reality, who is making the battery and what kind of Quality Control does the manufacturer have? If 1 out of ever 100 batteries is faulty and there are 50,000 sold that year then 500 unlucky buyers will get stuck with a bad battery. If it’s running an expensive device like my 3G iPhone that may cost me $2400 over 2 years (cost and service) and is sealed, your screwed. Now if Apple is sooo sure of this battery by sealing it into an expensive laptop then they should offer a 2 year warranty on the battery and device that carries it!

  13. Senthil Nayagam Says:

    I had been a PC guy for a long time, I loved the concept of being able to update a system. but if I now recollect, I have never been able to upgrade processors, smps or other core components(except hard disks ), the reason being by the time we decide to upgrade on a core component, the technology and interface would have evolved.

    I have a compaq laptop for last 3 years now, I have added memory, external storage and stuff. but battery, no , possibly never until the battery loses its power in less than 30 minutes.

    simple reason being I dont travel much or use on battery much.

    maybe if they offer a high battery life option for iphone, I would be tempted

  14. Arnold Says:

    “I don’t like it. With an expensive piece of hardware, you want to be able to replace what makes it run, if you need to.”

    On a computer, just about *every* part is something that “makes it run”. 🙂 You can’t replace the motherboard yourself, either. Many/most laptop parts that used to be separate are now completely integrated; how would you replace the sound chip or optical drive controller, even if you knew which one it was?

    “If you someone tried to sell a car that had sealed on tires, I don’t think that would be so good either.”

    (Uh-oh, car analogies.) But tires can fail catastrophically through no fault of the user or manufacturer. A better analogy would be, say, the battery on your car: it recharges during normal use, and gradually wears out, just like your laptop battery.

    Would you buy a car whose battery you couldn’t change? (I don’t know how to change the battery in my car; those crazy Europeans have some kind of special cradle I can never remember how to open.) How about if you knew the battery was spec’d to last the entire useful life of the car? I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen somebody change their own car battery. Or changed their own oil, either — that also frequently requires special equipment, these days.

  15. Jared Says:

    Cool case coming out by these guys (who are local, which is nice):

  16. Jeff Says:

    I’d rather use a sealed Apple laptop than a laptop with a removable battery that ran Windows.

  17. John Says:

    Here’s the thing-

    A laptop battery lasts for 2-3 years. I think for 90% of users, during those three years, the sealed battery, with it’s longer life and fancy chemicals, are a Good Thing.

    But Apple hasn’t given us any information on how much it will cost to replace it. Similar to the cost of a new battery today? A little more? x3? No information.

    THAT’S the problem with this — 90% of users don’t care about swapping out to backup batteries, but they WILL care about the cost (money AND time) of replacing the battery in 2-3 years.

  18. John Says:


  19. blissapp Says:

    I’ve changed a battery in an iPod, another Apple device that has an “unchangeable” battery. I’ve also owned half a dozen or so laptops, I’ve always upgraded before the battery life became an issue. I think I’ve got a P3 laptop in the cellar whose battery is now dead, a replacement battery is probably more than the laptop is worth. If there truly is 8 hours (even the 5 that is more likely), then a 5 year lifespan is perfectly fine, I mean, 5 years ago I was using that P3 laptop… It’s a long time.

  20. blissapp Says:

    Oh and another thing… my current (main) laptop is a late 2007 17″ mbp, so it willbe a while before I need to care about this anyway! It’s health is currently sitting at 96%

  21. Foreign Exchange School Says:

    I loved reading your story…

  22. sng Says:

    The primary reason being removed i.e. the life span of the battery becomes a non-issue. I’d be upgrading every 3-4 years anyway.

    My issue is the reboot factor. When I get the beach ball of death i automatically undo and remove the battery.

    How would i do that now?? Or do we have to wait until the power completely drains?

  23. John Says:

    @sng you can hold down the power button for about 5 seconds, and this forces the machine to reboot.