A closer look at Apple's advanced notebook battery tech

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited January 2014
The new 17" MacBook Pro claims an industry leading 8 hours of battery life, thanks to a series of innovations Apple highlighted in the new notebook's introduction. Even so, many of the advancements are not actually new, but rather the product of Apple's incremental engineering efforts to increase its notebooks' usability and desirability by thinking differently.



The new high end notebook uses a 95 watt-hour Lithium-Polymer battery, which the company hailed as a physically compact breakthrough over the batteries used in competing laptops. It's true that many PC laptops continue to use Lithium-Ion batteries, which package cylindrical cells inside a case, a practice that wastes a lot of internal space around the cells with dead air. Some of the cheaper PC laptops even still use relatively ancient Nickel Metal Hydride battery technology, which is even less space efficient.



However, Apple has been using Lithium-Polymer battery technology for years, both in iPods and in its notebook line. Rather than packaging cylindrical cells inside a battery module, Li-Poly batteries use sheets of polymer plastic that can be shaped as needed, resulting in a more compact and dense battery unit. In the images below, from Apple's video on battery technology shown in the Macworld keynote, Li-Poly sheets are spooled into bundles (below top) and then pressed into a thin unit (below middle graphics). The result is a thin package (below bottom).



















Apple uses Li-Poly batteries in the MacBook Air, and they're also used in iPods and iPhone models to deliver a slim profile. One notable difference in the 17" MacBook Pro is that while thinness is a top consideration, physical size isn't. That allowed Apple to install a relatively huge battery, affording the laptop a very long lifespan relative to industry norms.



The replacement battery rebels



Another aspect that allowed Apple to use a larger than typical battery is the company's fearless ability to buck convention. In this case, the prevailing consensus that a full size notebook must have a replaceable battery so that it can be swapped out with a spare. The company's track record for using non-replacable batteries in its iPod and iPhone models has long been ridiculed by pundits who have insisted that the company made that engineering decision primarily to force users to pay hefty fees to replace the batteries once they reached the end of their useful lifespan.



The real reason of course was to make a device that was easy to build and lacked a battery cover and the latches and connectors required to support user-swappable battery modules. Apple traded those features for the space to install a larger battery, giving its devices longer battery life in a more compact profile. The market solved the battery replacement cost itself, with companies offering third party, do-it-yourself kits for battery replacement in the price range of $10 to $20.



Last year, Apple took an even bolder step in releasing the thin MacBook Air without a replaceable battery module. That unleashed a new wave of bitter complaint from pundits, but resulted in a very thin enclosure that prompted healthy sales of the thin new notebook. While the company's mid-range 13" and 15" notebooks were sold with replaceable battery units, the new high end 17" model does away with all the covers, latches, and battery module packaging to make room for a larger battery pack that can't be swapped out without a screwdriver.



The result will likely be more complaint from the defenders of the status quo, but also a real breakthrough in usability. The 40% larger battery used in the 17" MacBook Pro gives it up to 8 hours of life, making it far more practically useful than a conventional 5 hour replaceable battery that requires also carrying a separate spare battery, and probably also an external charger.



3X longer life



Enhancing the battery's lifespan is an improved recharging system Apple calls Adaptive Charging, which more precisely monitors the charge level of the battery's individual cells, and delivers the optimal current required to recharge them. The company says this helps prolong the lifespan of the battery from the typical span of 300 charging cycles to up to 1000. That also means fewer battery packs will end up in landfills, putting a greener shine on the new notebook's environmental credentials.



With notebooks now accounting for more than half of the computers Apple sells, battery technology is a key area of research, one that the company is addressing with advanced research into battery chemistry and packaging design. This enables the company to produce differentiated products that stand out against the sea of commodity PC notebooks that are fighting primarily only to be cheaper, resulting in a need to use older technology that doesn't demand any investment in innovative research.



Apple has been routinely criticized for not scrambling to jump on the bandwagon of $400 netbook mini-laptops, but while that market of razor thin profit margins receives a lot of press hype, sustainable profitability lies with higher-end notebook models, a market Apple is increasingly dominating. Just as it did a decade ago, Apple intends to innovate its way out of the current recession, setting itself up for a strong position once the global economy recovers. Until then, sales of Apple notebooks appear to be stronger than ever, thanks to the company's relentless efforts to improve and differentiate its MacBooks from commodity PC alternatives.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 166
    aaarrrggghaaarrrgggh Posts: 1,566member
    As a stockholder, I sure hope Apple can find a compromise between being "cheap" and "high end" for the next few years. Based on the keynote, they sold 2.3MM macs this past quarter, which was a little lower than I hoped, but seemingly in-line with estimates.



    It will be hard to maintain sales and profits if the entire portfolio is biased to the high end.
  • Reply 2 of 166
    postulantpostulant Posts: 1,270member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    This enables the company to produce differentiated products that stand out against the sea of commodity PC notebooks that are fighting primarily only to be cheaper, resulting in a need to use older technology that doesn't demand any investment in innovative research.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    Apple intends to innovate its way out of the current recession, setting itself up for a strong position once the global economy recovers. Until then, sales of Apple notebooks appear to be stronger than ever, thanks to the company's relentless efforts to improve and differentiate its MacBooks from commodity PC alternatives.



    Beautifully stated. And that's why I made the switch from PC to Mac.
  • Reply 3 of 166
    Given my usage pattern, it's a reasonable compromise trading a replaceable 5 hour battery with a longer lasting non-replaceable 8 hour battery. It saves carrying a 2nd battery. As long as Apple's claims of 1000 cycle life up from 300 cycles is accurate, then I think it'll be okay in the long run.



    I guess the question is when will it show up in the rest of the product line? Although it does go backwards on the MacBook and 15.4" MacBook Pro's recent promotion of the easy access cover.
  • Reply 4 of 166
    merdheadmerdhead Posts: 587member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    The new 17" MacBook Pro claims an industry leading 8 hours of battery life, thanks to a series of innovations Apple highlighted in the new notebook's introduction. Even so, many of the advancements are not actually new, but rather the product of Apple's incremental engineering efforts to increase its notebooks' usability and desirability by thinking differently.



    I think I'm going to puke. Is AI just a mouthpiece for Apple hype?



    It's a bigger, non-removable, battery. The "Adaptive Charging" gives you better performance on cycling, but 300 is a seriously low-ball figure. Polymer batteries have been around forever and are common. On the other hand, no replaceable battery is a serious problem for many people.



    If you really want to see something new, look at Toshiba's new Li-Ion batteries, which have serious performance.
  • Reply 5 of 166
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by aaarrrgggh View Post


    As a stockholder, I sure hope Apple can find a compromise between being "cheap" and "high end" for the next few years. Based on the keynote, they sold 2.3MM macs this past quarter, which was a little lower than I hoped, but seemingly in-line with estimates.



    It will be hard to maintain sales and profits if the entire portfolio is biased to the high end.



    There was no mention of how many units Apple sold this quarter. The only mention was that they sold 9.7 M units in the past FISCAL year , which was the actual sales for Fiscal 08 and ended on Sept 30 2008.
  • Reply 6 of 166
    Almost certainly this (along with the aluminum uni-body manufacturing technology/process) is what Apple was referring to when they talked about product transitions leading to lower margins but significant competitive advantage.



    What's interesting is that this is that this shows better than anything how Apple is investing for the long term.



    Undoubtedly these are manufacturing technologies that are resulting in higher costs now but will result in lower costs (and even more interesting product designs) later.



    Another interesting thing is how the different product platforms (iPod, iPhone, Mac) are continually "cross-pollinating" each other from a software, hardware design and manufacturing technology perspective.
  • Reply 7 of 166
    rainrain Posts: 538member
    I would advise all investors to sell.

    Buy at $57 in April.
  • Reply 8 of 166
    hiimamachiimamac Posts: 584member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by aaarrrgggh View Post


    As a stockholder, I sure hope Apple can find a compromise between being "cheap" and "high end" for the next few years. Based on the keynote, they sold 2.3MM macs this past quarter, which was a little lower than I hoped, but seemingly in-line with estimates.



    It will be hard to maintain sales and profits if the entire portfolio is biased to the high end.



    I have to agree with that, especially since Apple has gone from a catered, loyal, creative high end user base to one and one lessons tailored for barking dogs, email attachments, auntie moo moo and her iPhoto library with most of the Mac Specialists not knowing a thing about Logic, Shake, Motion, Final Cut, Aperture and the likes. Apple is now a consumer company. No more COMPUTER in the name, no more .MAC with a logo that looks starkly like a Microsoft logo, and now even iLife has gone from the CLEAN (logo), sharp look to one that is much busier.



    Everything that Apple has done/created/marketed since the iPhone is all consumer.



    They act like a specialist niche market in terms of price but everything else they do says otherwise - heck, they don't even cater the niche creative s that got them to where they are at all.



    Additionally, if Apple can crank out these new revolutionary batteries now then why don't they sell them for all their products? It should be a priority for all Macbooks don't you think?a
  • Reply 9 of 166
    boogabooga Posts: 1,076member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by merdhead View Post


    I think I'm going to puke. Is AI just a mouthpiece for Apple hype?



    It's a bigger, non-removable, battery. The "Adaptive Charging" gives you better performance on cycling, but 300 is a seriously low-ball figure. Polymer batteries have been around forever and are common. On the other hand, no replaceable battery is a serious problem for many people.



    If you really want to see something new, look at Toshiba's new Li-Ion batteries, which have serious performance.



    On the other hand, a 17" laptop with extreme tortional rigidity and a long battery life is probably going to sell WAY more laptops than the inability to go for more than 7 hours without plugging in is going to lose. I've owned a 17" MacBook Pro for the better part of a year and don't miss it myself. The only time my wife's original 15" MacBook Pro's battery has been removed is when its lifetime got too short and we replaced it for a new one-- something you can still do with the new one.
  • Reply 10 of 166
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Booga View Post


    The only time my wife's original 15" MacBook Pro's battery has been removed is when its lifetime got too short and we replaced it for a new one-- something you can still do with the new one.



    Exactly. All this whining about batteries...Like you guys, I never need to remove my battery. Same goes for all the crying about the iPhone not having a removable battery. While I'm not in the market to buy a new MBP, I do hope these batteries make their transition down to the other lines. I'm sure they will, but I like where they're going.
  • Reply 11 of 166
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by greyst1crash View Post


    Exactly. All this whining about batteries...Like you guys, I never need to remove my battery. Same goes for all the crying about the iPhone not having a removable battery. While I'm not in the market to buy a new MBP, I do hope these batteries make their transition down to the other lines. I'm sure they will, but I like where they're going.



    I've had a fourth generation iPod for over three years. I replaced the battery myself using a kit I purchased online for $18.99. If you don't want to do it yourself, or think you can't, you can get it done for you for around 29 bucks.



    Everyone laughed -- and cringed -- when Apple introduced the iMac in 1997 because it didn't have a floppy drive. Since then, the iMac has become the highest selling desktop in history.



    Everyone laughed -- and cringed -- when Apple introduced the iPod in October of 2001 because the MP3-player market was "saturated." Despite the fact that our economy was in a post-9/11 recession, the iPod became the world's premiere music device.



    All this chatter about batteries, PC vs. Mac prices, and all the rest of it is nothing more than noise in the system. None of us who love, use, and depend on Apple products give a rat's ass about whiny complainers who don't seem to be pleased with anything that doesn't fit their very subjective specifications for perfection.



    Some people just need to grow up.
  • Reply 12 of 166
    teckstudteckstud Posts: 6,476member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by greyst1crash View Post


    Exactly. All this whining about batteries...Like you guys, I never need to remove my battery. Same goes for all the crying about the iPhone not having a removable battery. While I'm not in the market to buy a new MBP, I do hope these batteries make their transition down to the other lines. I'm sure they will, but I like where they're going.



    You must like to be a slave to Apple. Who buys a laptop without a removeable battery?

    No swappable battery= NO SALE.
  • Reply 13 of 166
    zandroszandros Posts: 537member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by merdhead View Post


    It's a bigger, non-removable, battery. The "Adaptive Charging" gives you better performance on cycling, but 300 is a seriously low-ball figure. Polymer batteries have been around forever and are common. On the other hand, no replaceable battery is a serious problem for many people.



    300 full recharges before reaching 80% capacity is, in my experience, pretty accurate.
  • Reply 14 of 166
    teckstudteckstud Posts: 6,476member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by merdhead View Post


    I think I'm going to puke. Is AI just a mouthpiece for Apple hype?



    No- iPhone hype.
  • Reply 15 of 166
    nasseraenasserae Posts: 3,152member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by merdhead View Post


    I think I'm going to puke. Is AI just a mouthpiece for Apple hype?



    It's a bigger, non-removable, battery. The "Adaptive Charging" gives you better performance on cycling, but 300 is a seriously low-ball figure. Polymer batteries have been around forever and are common. On the other hand, no replaceable battery is a serious problem for many people.



    If you really want to see something new, look at Toshiba's new Li-Ion batteries, which have serious performance.



    From Apple website: "For Apple notebooks with removable batteries — such as the MacBook, MacBook Air, and 15-inch MacBook Pro — a properly maintained battery is designed to retain up to 80% of its original capacity at 300 full charge and discharge cycles. You may choose to replace your battery when it no longer holds sufficient charge to meet your needs."



    Your battery will not just die after 300 cycles but it will not hold as much charge as it used to. My MBP is 2 months old and already at 65 cycles. This means one cycle a a day and maybe I will have to replace my battery after one and half year of usage.
  • Reply 16 of 166
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by teckstud View Post


    You must like to be a slave to Apple. Who buys a laptop without a removeable battery?

    No swappable battery= NO SALE.



    The exact same thing was said about phones! Why are there always a few morons who don't understand innovation? Do you really believe that you won't be able to replace the battery? This company continues to knock it out of the box year after freakin year! Name the superior notebook. Please name it. I'll wait...
  • Reply 17 of 166
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by teckstud View Post


    You must like to be a slave to Apple. Who buys a laptop without a removeable battery?

    No swappable battery= NO SALE.



    People who aren't narrow-minded and slaves to fading technology.



    Apple helped make me wealthy enough so that I could run my own business from my home. If that's slavery, I'll sign up for it every time.
  • Reply 18 of 166
    teckstudteckstud Posts: 6,476member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Vituperable View Post


    The exact same thing was said about phones! Why are there always a few morons who don't understand innovation? Do you really believe that you won't be able to replace the battery? This company continues to knock it out of the box year after freakin year! Name the superior notebook. Please name it. I'll wait...



    Oh I see- so innovation means like no Matte screens, no Blu-ray, no Fire wire, no MMS pics, no Video capture on their phone, no small laptops????

    Idiots like you that want to lug around an oversized $3,000 tin cookie baking sheet look just like that - moronic.
  • Reply 19 of 166
    dws-2dws-2 Posts: 211member
    I don't know anyone who has an extra battery for their laptop, and I know a lot of people with laptops. In other words, everyone I know would benefit from the new way Apple is approaching batteries. I only wish they had this on the 15" MacBook Pro; I'd buy a new one today.



    Ever since Jobs was reinstated, people have been complaining about Apple's bad decisions. No more clones! Death knell. The iPod was roundly criticized. etc. etc. Yet every year, Apple breaks new records with growth in Macs even as they expand into other product categories. I believe that Apple makes money precisely because everyone doubts its decisions, which means that people don't copy Apple's innovations until Apple already has the upper hand.
  • Reply 20 of 166
    teckstudteckstud Posts: 6,476member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SkateNY View Post


    People who aren't narrow-minded and slaves to fading technology.



    Apple helped make me wealthy enough so that I could run my own business from my home. If that's slavery, I'll sign up for it every time.



    A lot of people made fortunes running Windows at home too - so what's your point?
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