CSR: Do You Use Environmentally Friendly Laptops? Can You Replace Batteries?

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My Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display (aka MBPr) is losing its charge – otherwise it's largely been a champ so far since Jason and I each bought one the very first day they came out in 2012. There have been some bugs along the way (e.g. WiFi and Bluetooth don't always like each other, and some unexpected crashes), but overall it has been a good relationship.

As is expected with all battery-powered devices (remember that prospective electric car buyers!), eventually the charge doesn't last. Early on, I got a solid 8 hours out of my MacBook battery, maybe even 10 hours or more sometimes, especially on dark planes with the screen dimmed down. Now, however, 3 hours or so, and it’s shutting down.

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At first I thought it'd be a simple fix: order a new battery and replace it myself. I figured I could open up the case (the back of the laptop is screwed together with some kind of custom Torx fasteners), but no, I quickly discovered that post-2012, that's a no-go for end-users. Yes, despite knowing that batteries don't last very long, since 2012, Apple has decided to glue in all batteries in their laptops. This is unnecessary from a technical point of view (several other big brand companies still have user-replaceable batteries, even in ultra portables ­– see link below). This poor design, too, could force you to throw away a perfectly good laptop because buying a new computer may be easier than paying $500 to have Apple perform open-heart surgery to replace a battery that would have been a sub-$100 item to replace on your own. This means early retirement for an otherwise still perfectly useful computer, which is extremely wasteful.

In fact, there is even a site out there dedicated to cataloging laptops with user-replaceable batteries, which is fantastic! Names include Dell, HP, Asus, Acer, Lenova – but nothing from Apple. This is a rather poor showing for a California firm, not exactly taking the lead in being environmentally responsible.

‘Genius’ Bar Debacle

Back to my PowerBook, I thought I could minimize the operational down-time, so a few days ago, armed with my extended AppleCare warranty, I called Apple's hotline to schedule a battery replacement. Sure, that shouldn't be a problem they said, if they have the parts. Not that they would tell me if they have the parts! Next, I called the local store, where the "Genius" works, and where I have my appointment. After some discussions, the person on the line revealed that they had just 1 piece in stock. Two days later (this weekend, to not kill any workday time) I arrived for appointment at the local Genius Bar (which, oddly, doesn't serve even coffee). After running some tests, it was determined I needed a new battery. Duh.

Not so fast, though! I then found out that the replacement would take 3-5 working days since there were others ahead of me. OK, fair enough. I asked them what could be done to get one-day turnaround – maybe schedule in advance? I wondered if my wife could drop off on a Thursday morning (she works close to the Apple store), and then pick up in the evening? They first said that could work. But after adding my wife as an authorized user and reviewing the plan (with a one-day turnaround) I got a blank stare. For those who have seen the guard scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail know what that felt like. Ultimately, however, they could not promise anything more than a first come, first serve turnaround. So I had to hope for the best.

At the end of this exercise, I asked what improvement I could expect with the new battery – a reasonable request, in my opinion. But I might as well have asked a politician how they plan to fund their "generous" programs. I only got a squirrely run-around answer. That was my not-quite-the-Genius experience at the Apple Store.

Takeaway

Really examine your next computer purchase – I would suggest to make sure that batteries can be user-replaceable. If we can get 5 years instead of 2-3 years out of our IT equipment, that's great. It’s both green and economical. With the horsepower in laptops these days, and high-resolution displays, I think most (non-programming, non-audiovisual content) users should be able to be on more extended replacement cycles.

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