Next year, Apple will begin adding 2012-era MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models to its Vintage and Obsolete list. The first wave will happen in June, 2017.
For those unaware, after five years of being out of production, Apple declares machines to be Vintage. This starts a two year period, where folks in a few areas (namely California, Turkey, and France) can keep getting service – but for everyone else, there’s no hardware servicing. No part replacements. Nada. And even in those areas, you’re out of luck after seven years – once you hit Obsolete status.
And that, until now, was fine. If you wanted to get your machine fixed, you could go to an independent repair firm – and even just use used parts.
But now we’re about to enter a new era, where the MacBook battery cannot be replaced by anyone, except Apple. As I’ve lamented, and so have countless others, they’re glued to the top case of the machine. Apple wants you to replace the trackpad, and the entire top assembly of the machine, to swap batteries.
Once these machines hit Vintage status, that means no more battery replacements.
This is made even more uncomfortable by the fact that Apple is still shipping macOS updates (and upgrades) for these machines. So you can’t replace the battery in them, but they are still getting OS upgrades. Oh, and if the battery fails, you can’t disconnect it. It has to stay in the machine, and if it malfunctions, it may not boot anymore.
After all, for some to-this-day unexplained reason, disconnecting the internal battery in a Retina MacBook, throttles the machine to 100 MHz. I am not joking.
Apple has some options here.
Option 1: Keep Replacing Batteries
Apple can keep replacing batteries after they hit Vintage or Obsolete status. There’s no reason Apple can’t just stock the top case and battery, and create a new exception – noting that this is the one thing in the MacBook that is both designed to eventually fail – and Apple designed these MacBooks to function only with a battery present.
This is the easiest solution, for everyone. But it requires Apple to possibly take back into production batteries and top cases for machines that they haven’t sold in seven years.
Option 2: Do Nothing
Certainly this would be the most awkward option. Your MacBook gets a new version of the macOS, provided your battery hasn’t failed – rendering your system unable to boot. That creates a painful luck-of-the-draw scenario that certainly would tarnish Apple’s image with some of its most loyal customers.
Option 3: Offer Specs to the Aftermarket
Apple certainly has created quite a market with the MFi system. There’s no reason Apple couldn’t offer up the schematics, under license, for the battery and top case. There are no secrets left in the unibody field today. There would be some logistics, in that the top-case includes the trackpad, but even those could be refurbished. The removal of the battery can theoretically be done – using airplane-grade epoxy removal.
Apple could offer repair facilities a program to professionally extract the old battery, and allow a new one to be installed.
The downside, this would become expensive. Apple probably isn’t making money on battery replacements at the $199 price point. The cost of doing all this, would put a lot of MacBook models beyond economic repair – factoring in the depreciation.
Option 4: Offer a Firmware Update Enabling Battery Removal
It really bugs me that you can’t just remove the battery. Some epoxy remover, and unplugging a well-buried cable. That’s all it takes. The problem, is the Mac’s firmware. It is designed to deadlock the machine to 100 MHz. The only reason I can imagine for this, is fear that the battery has failed, and is bulging, and the added heat of the processor could pose a fire hazard.
The solution would be to allow repair facilities to remove the battery, and flash it with a SMC code change that would remove the battery. This could all be done using Apple’s existing tech tools that they ship over Netbook to Apple Authorized Service Centers. People could pay a small fee, and have the battery permanently removed – leaving the machine a glorified, albeit functional desktop computer.
I doubt Apple will offer this – citing the fact that most batteries that fail, do so in a manner that allows the machine to continue operating. Still, it doesn’t help you if the battery starts to bulge, and you can’t order a replacement from anyone.
Time isn’t on Apple’s side here. They need to make a decision, and rather quickly, certainly by the end of 2017, on how they want to handle these machine’s batteries. Mac’s longevity – usually a huge asset of Macintosh computers – is working against it here.
My vote is that Apple offer battery replacements for 15 years from the date of discontinuation. That ensures that you get the full 10 year lifespan, and a reasonable time to order a replacement that will let it run for another decade, on average.