The recent round of rumors for Apple’s presumed forthcoming 17″ MacBook Pro has a lot of people kicking and screaming already about a possible battery situation that might have the Interweb up in arms. The idea here is that the MBP will have an internal battery that is not easily removable/replaceable, like any of the iPods or the iPhone. It’s been a point of contention among those who demand unplugged power and require multiple batteries, and it’s even been the subject of at least a few lawsuits.
While I don’t use my MBP unplugged for long enough periods to really care, I do think that it’s sounding like a poor move – at least superficially. But here’s what criteria Apple would have to meet in order to make it a more palatable decision.
The 17″ MBP is a new design problem that was sure to yield answers to some interesting questions, as I’ve noted previously. One of the obvious design difficulties will be the fact that the 17″ MBP is not, as many seem to assume (incorrectly) a simple problem of scale from the 15″. That is, Apple cannot simply put everything in the same place and be as space conscious in the 17″ design. It is, again, a separate engineering problem, which I believe is the reason it’s being introduced at least almost 3 months after the 15″ redesign.
Essentially, I think Apple may have hit a wall with the new machine and had to figure out what to do about the battery. The best solution may come in the form of taking full advantage of Lithium-polymer technology, which is apparently more forgiving on form factor than its Lithium-Ion predecessor. In other words, Li-poly batteries can be squeezed into weirder shapes than your traditional Li-Ion battery. This is my incredibly rudimentary and probably inaccurate understanding.
But if this were the case, then it could be squeezed between logic boards and other components and still retain a fair amount of capacity.
Another interesting idea would be the use of the newest battery technology that was recently introduced in conjunction with a partnership with HP recently. While I would hope for such progressive steps in portable power, I am also hoping that batteries for the 15″ based on this technology are also released … for selfish reasons, of course!
The crux of the non-removable issue is at least two fold. The less serious issue to me is the notion of hot-swap. As I alluded to (flat out stated?) before, I would not be among those missing hot swap. Moving to the higher efficiency battery would bring even more people to this position, though a few die hards would undoubtedly remain and swear allegiance against Apple for all eternity. Which may well be justified (see lack of FireWire in new MacBooks).
The more serious issue is one of long term viability. Basically, because batteries die eventually, users have a very reasonable expectation that they should still be able to use their laptops unplugged for its entire lifetime. Non-replaceable batteries threaten that status quo. The more serious issue has a solution, as far as my ignorance can see.
If the non-replaceable battery were really just not hot swappable but actually replaceable, then a reasonable trade-off would be the implement the battery in such a way that it were, in fact, easily accessible beneath the bottom panel of the Unibody case. This could at least allow people to change the battery when it does, inevitably, fail, which would give more people confidence in this technology. Making this installation stupidly easy (remove the bottom panel, pull the star-armed battery out of the case, replace with new battery?) would silence most of the clamor about this issue.
Current trends in portable devices from Apple suggest that this might not be so easy. While they were able to make earlier iPods easy enough to get into and swap out dying batteries, the form of the iPod touch and iPhone have made that process far more difficult. I think these users have a completely legitimate claim to annoyance for this problem.
It could additionally create a third party market of batteries and installations that could be fruitful.
Finally, there has been some speculation regarding some of the wording that the non-replaceable internal battery could be an auxiliary battery. This is a phenomenal idea as well. A large internal battery that would serve as the main battery and a smaller, hot swappable battery would be a great compromise. Make the internal battery actually replaceable after it wears out in time, and you’ve got a better design than currently exists – further innovation amid a lot of speculation about several portable power related problems that are begging to be addressed.