Apple's penchant for producing products with batteries that are not swappable by users brings up a really interesting point - should consumers blindly accept such a strategy?

One might argue, somewhat cynically of course, that sealed-in batteries are just a ploy for vendors to lock in replacement battery revenues by locking out third-party competition. And, since almost all batteries will fail after 500 to 1,000 recharge cycles or so, the revenues involved can be substantial.

On the other hand, non-removable batteries allow for sleek and sexy designs, and hard-core buyers of the iPhone and MacBook Air probably won't care one way or the other. After all, Apple's hugely popular iPods also have sealed-in batteries.

I'm not an iPod user (although everyone else in my family is), but there's a big difference between going without tunes for a while and not being able to make a call, check a spreadsheet or get on the Web. I'm having a hard time understanding, from the consumer's perspective, why having to take one's product to an Apple store - or, worse, mail it in - to get the battery replaced is a good idea.

Some have pointed out that this really isn't all that big a deal, given the relatively long talk time and run times of Apple devices, the relatively long (with proper care) life of the battery itself and, of course, the variety of external batteries available. These simply connect like a battery charger to supplement the internal battery. But there are a number of problems with this approach, including:

  • Secondary batteries tend to be expensive - US$300 is not uncommon, but some are less than $100. I did find one for the iPhone that runs off four AAA cells and costs about $29.
  • They tend to be large and fairly heavy, negating some of the benefits of the light, sleek device they power. There's more to carry and worry about.
  • The clunky/kludgey factor must be considered, along with the fundamental inconvenience of having to cable the power supply together.
  • They do not address the fact that the primary battery will still fail and that the user will be without the device for a period of time while it is repaired. Apple does offer a "loaner" program - but at an additional cost.
  • The cost of the replacement primary battery plus the labour involved could perhaps be as much as the cost of a secondary battery, meaning we're talking big bucks here just to stay on the air.

I must conclude, then, that there's not much justification for buying a device with a non-removable battery if that device is going to be operating on battery power much or certainly most of the time.