iFixit: Apple is creating a "lease-based model" with the new Retina MacBook Pro

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This morning I heard this story run on my local NPR station in the Los Angeles area, KPCC. It featured an iFixit representative and his opinions of the new Retina MacBook Pro. I love iFixit and think it's a great resource, but this story rubbed me the wrong way.

The iFixit rep puts a pretty slanted perspective on the Retina MacBook. He claims that because the battery is glued down Apple is planning for the machine to wear out in two years and this will force the customer to upgrade to a whole new machine. That's a lot of assertion just because of some glue.

First of all, a lifespan of two years on this battery is certainly only relevant for the power user. I imagine the typical consumer won't need to replace the battery for more on the order of four years, which is probably about the life span of the laptop anyway. And secondly, if the battery does wear out, the customer doesn't need to throw the computer away. Just take it in to an Apple Store and they'll put a new one in. They don't need to worry about opening up the computer and messing things up.

I'll agree with iFixit that it'd be nice if the battery wasn't glued down, but that fact alone doesn't warrant the claim that Apple is planning obsolescence or a lease-based model.

I've transcribed some of the interview below. Click through to go to the station's website and hear the story for yourself.

The Madeleine Brand Show (opens in new window)

iFixit: There isn't a good way to replace the battery in this laptop when it wears out. So, they're limiting the lifespan of the laptop to the life of the battery.

KPCC: The cynic might say, that's so they can sell more laptops.

iFixit: That cynic would be a smart person.

KPCC: (laughter)

iFixit: Yeah, either it's planned obsolescence. Or they're trying to get people into a lease-based model where they're having to pay Apple a few hundred dollars every so often to replace the battery in their laptop.

KPCC: Well, how long can the battery last?

iFixit: Apple is claiming the battery in this laptop lasts for 1000 charges. Which is actually pretty good. Past generations of batteries would only last 300 charges. But still, I use my laptop all day, every day. I went through 950 charges on my laptop last year. So that means I would be going through a new battery every year. Now, I'm a little abnormal. For most people I would expect it to last more like two years. But it's definitely something to consider. You don't necessarily think of battery prices when you're buying a laptop.

KPCC: Still two years, that's not very long.

iFixit: Absolutely, for a $2,200 machine.

Update: John Gruber linked to a Wired article written by the same iFixit representative, Kyle Wiens. It's more of his opinions on the Retina MacBook. I started to read it and began noticing the same sorts of misinformation as in the KPCC interview. Let's take a look, shan't we?

The New MacBook Pro: Unfixable, Unhackable, Untenable by Kyle Wiens

"And the battery is glued to the case, requiring customers to mail their laptop to Apple every so often for a $200 replacement."

He forgot to mention you could just go into an Apple Store and they'll replace it. And he makes it sound like the battery will just fizzle out in a few months, but really it'll be years before the battery needs replacing.

"Its RAM is soldered to the logic board (as in the Retina MacBook Pro), so upgrading it means replacing the entire expensive logic board."

So max out the RAM when you buy it. It's an additional $100 when you buy the Air and $200 when you buy the Retina Macbook. It's not very expensive and you've future proofed your machine.

"Would we support laptops that required replacement every year or two as applications required more memory and batteries atrophied?"

The first quote mentioned that the battery can be replaced for $200, but now he's forgotten. Once the battery is at 80% capacity, the whole laptop needs to be thrown out.

"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."

He's wrapping it up here, and he still insists on it being non-replaceable and now throws in the "finite cycle count" as if they could have chosen an infinite cycle battery.

I feel the need to again reiterate that I do like iFixit and appreciate that they want to help us all fix our computers. I've used their site and it's great. But what is up with all this word play surrounding the Retina Macbook? Since the battery is glued down and doesn't allow Kyle Wiens to fix it himself, he concludes that the battery is non-replaceable. And since he can't let Apple replace it for him for some reason, the laptop is dead once the battery reaches 1000 cycles. Strange.

We want our computers and phones to be thin and light and beautiful to use. The cost of that, unfortunately, is that we can't crack it open ourselves and fiddle around inside. It's a bummer for sure, but at least we get an amazing laptop out of the deal. And one with a really big battery.