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Apple charges 54% more to replace Retina MacBook Pro's battery

Nonupgradeable battery, other 'Air-izing' traits of new notebook prompts repair expert to say, 'We have to draw a line in the sand'

Apple customers who purchase the company's new Retina MacBook Pro will pay more to replace the notebook's integrated, glued-down battery, according to Apple.

The battery, which is literally stuck to the case with adhesive, cannot be replaced by the user, but instead must be returned to Apple, either by mail or an express shipping service, or by dropping it off at an Apple retail store.

That's not new: MacBook Air owners have faced the same issue since that thin-and-light laptop's debut in 2008, and users of other MacBook Pro models have, too, since Apple began equipping them with custom, built-in batteries.

But Apple's price for replacing the Retina MacBook Pro's battery is $199, or 54% higher than the fee for swapping out a MacBook Air's power supply.

Admittedly, the battery in the MacBook Pro is more powerful than the Air's: Apple rated the former at 95 watt-hours (Whr), meaning that it can produce one watt of power for 95 hours, or, say, 5 watts of power for 19 hours. The 13-in. MacBook Air's battery, on the other hand, is rated at 50 Whr.

But while the 15-in. non-Retina MacBook Pro battery is also rated at 95 Whr., it costs just $129 -- the same as the Air -- to have Apple replace that laptop's battery.

Apple claimed that the Retina MacBook Pro's battery could be recharged approximately 1,000 times before its fully-charged capacity fell to 80%. If the notebook is charged once each day, its capability will have dropped by a fifth after two years and nine months.

The company estimates that the MacBook Air and other MacBook Pro laptops can be charged the same number of times before their lithium-ion polymer batteries' capacity slips to 80%.

Kyle Wiens, the CEO of iFixit, a website that specializes in creating repair guides for Apple products, bemoaned the "Air-izing" of the MacBook Pro.

"Apple is asking users to define the future of the MacBook Pro," argued Wiens in a post to his company's blog. "Once again ... Apple has presented the market with a choice. They have two professional laptops: one that is serviceable and upgradeable, and one that is not."

Wiens was talking about the sudden appearance of a new MacBook Pro flavor, the Retina-equipped model that has a long list of MacBook Air-like components and assembly traits, including the battery and RAM soldered to the logic board, but which also sports some characteristics of the iPad, like its glued-to-the-frame display.

This week, Wiens' team disassembled a new Retina MacBook Pro, and based on the problems it encountered -- including glue, not screws, that held the battery in place -- concluded that it was the "least-repairable laptop we've taken apart."

"We have consistently voted for hardware that's thinner rather than upgradeable," Wiens said, citing the strong sales of the MacBook Air. "But we have to draw a line in the sand somewhere. Our purchasing decisions are telling Apple that we're happy to buy computers and watch them die on schedule."

Some Apple customers have complained about the company's battery practices before, notably in 2007 after the introduction of the first iPhone. At the time, most mobile phones used batteries that could be easily replaced by owners.

In July 2007, officials in New York state asked Apple to change its iPhone design to allow consumers to replace their own batteries. The demand came just days after lawyers in Illinois filed a class-action lawsuit over the same complaint.

Apple did not change the iPhone's design, and as Wiens noted, expanded the practice to its laptops and tablets.

"Every time we buy a locked down product containing a non-replaceable battery with a finite cycle count, we're voicing our opinion on how long our things should last," said Wiens.

Apple said that a Retina MacBook Pro battery replacement was a same-day service in its retail stores if the owner had made an appointment, but that the process would take three to four days if the laptop was shipped to Apple.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Read more about macintosh in Computerworld's Macintosh Topic Center.


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