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Apple Ensures Laptop Obsolescence

A bigger, better battery means consumers must toss their laptop when the battery wears out.
January 6, 2009

Apple announced a handful of somewhat interesting features and products at Macworld in San Francisco today, including new features in iLife ‘09, the ability to wirelessly download songs on the iPhone, iTunes music without digital rights management restrictions, and a new MacBook Pro. But the announcement that caught my eye was a new battery design for the MacBook Pro: it essentially limits the lifetime of the new laptop, ensuring its worthlessness after the battery dies.

The new 17-inch MacBook Pro. Credit: Apple

Apple’s team of dedicated engineers specializes in making batteries that fit into the sleek cases that houses its laptops. And in the new MacBook Pro, the engineers aimed for a battery that was thin and holds more energy than ever. At the keynote, Phil Schiller, vice president of products at Apple, claimed that the battery lasts eight hours, depending the use, and can be recharged 1000 times, giving it an effective lifetime of about five years.

The trick to improving the battery charge, however, was increasing its size by about 40 percent. And the limited volume within a laptop case meant that the engineers had to take something out. The component that got the boot is the housing that allows the battery to be removed and replaced when it wears out. (A great explanatory video is here.)

This means that the lifetime of the laptop itself is directly tied to the lifetime of the battery, ensuring its uselessness and disposability in five years. While Apple touts itself as a company concerned with the environment, limiting the reuse of its technology seems to blatantly ignore environmental concerns.

Apple surely anticipated this criticism. At the keynote, Schiller displayed a slide that flaunted the MacBook Pro’s “environmental checklist”: it’s arsenic-free, BFR-free, mercury-free, has a PVC-free system, is highly recyclable, 34% smaller packaging, and a 1000-recharge battery.

Still, when those 1000 charges are up, the laptop doesn’t get another life. It heads to the shredder.*

*Apple confirmed late Tuesday that the MacBook Pro 17” batteries can be replaced professionally for an additional cost of $179.

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