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Batteries.

Seems a creative professionals life runs on batteries.  The ability to work on the go, anywhere, any time. My phone, tablet, laptop, cameras all run on batteries.

The Problem with Rechargeable Batteries

Over time, rechargeable batteries wear out and need to be replaced.  I’m not talking about losing a charge, rather the total number of charges that a battery can hold before it’s used up. Batteries over time suffer from a few problems.

  • Cycles. A battery can only be recharged so many times before it essentially stops being able to hold a charge.  This can be a total failure or a greatly diminished capacity.  I’ve also personally had batteries bloat and expand till the point of nearly rupturing their case.
  • Maximum Capacity. Over time batteries become less efficient.  They are unable to hold as much charge and you’ll find yourself needing to charge more often.

Disclaimer 1: Before I tell you the following story, let me clarify one thing.  I’m a cross-platform kind of guy.  I use both Mac and HP computers all the time in my professional life.  I have preferences for different tasks and performance needs.

Disclaimer 2: These are my experiences, other people’s may be different.

My Machine Says I Need to Service the Battery

Recently I had a very frustrating experience with my MacBook Pro.  It’s a top of the line machine about a year and a half old.  I run the latest operating system and keep it well-maintained.

The other day, a new error popped up that I’d never seen before.  My Mac told me that my battery was having problems.  I got the very generic “Service Battery” when I clicked on the battery status menu.

servicebattery

A search in the help menu found this description for the weird message.

Service Battery: The battery isn’t functioning normally, and you may or may not notice a change in its behavior or the amount of charge it holds. Take your computer in for service. You can continue to use your battery before it’s checked without harming your computer.”

I was on the road for work,so I wrote the error off for a while.  For weeks though my Mac kept telling me the battery needed attention.  This struck me as weird, so I made an appointment at the local Apple store to get the machine serviced.

Time to Do Something?

If my computer keeps telling me something is wrong, I figure I better listen. I made an appointment for the weekend when things were less busy for me.  Got the first slot on Saturday AM.  I loaded up a detailed description into the appointment system, precise notes abut what’s wrong, my serial number, etc.  Identified exactly what my machine said was wrong and that I’d need a new battery.

I thought this would be an easy fix… I was very wrong.

When I arrived at the Apple Store the tech checked my machine and the message and said that  my battery had failed.  To make extra sure he hooked it up and ran a diagnostic report.

diagnostic

The tech verified that “my battery had failed.”  He then informed me that the repair would be about $400. I replied that seemed like an awful lot for a battery

When is a Battery Not a Battery?

It turns out, in modern Mac laptops the battery isn’t just a battery. In a quest to make machines thinner, Apple made the batteries unserviceable by the user (as well as removed much of the protective covering).  The battery glued to your keyboard which means they have to replace both at the same time (even if your keyboard works just fine).

internalpower

Next toss in the problem that Apple thought I didn’t have AppleCare on the machine.  This is Apple’s extended warranty.  This was despite me showing a receipt that showed that I bought both at the same time.  Turns out that if you don’t by the machine from an Apple Store, you have to actually fill out some online form to register your warranty.  If you buy at an Apple store, they automatically attach it.  Anywhere else, you have to do it yourself.

Should I Spend the Money?

Since I’m not one to part with $400 lightly I ask for more details.  In what way has my battery failed.  After about 6 minutes of back and forth I finally get the tech to clarify that my battery fails to meet Apple standards.

Yes, you heard that right.  Battery failure means a failure to meet Apple standards.  This warrants telling a user to make a service appointment and shell out nearly $400.

I asked if my machine was at risk for damage… nope.  The only problem I’d experience is that the battery wouldn’t hold a charge as long.  Last I checked, that’s what happens to all rechargeable batteries as they got older.

Still, I considered the repair… my keyboard was a little worn out, I could use a longer lasting battery.  The tech said he thought they could get the AppleCare issue worked out.

Start Your Engines?

Okay, I was going to do it.  I figured I could pick the machine up at the end of the day (or maybe the next morning). Nope.

How long would it take? About 3 days.

Yes, three days to swap a battery.  Three days to repair something on a Mac laptop that every Mac laptop is supposed to need done before the machine fails. The battery is rated to last less than the machine for most users.  Nearly everyone who buys a Mac laptop should need to replace the battery (unless they are programmed to constantly upgrade).

Why?  Well it turns out that battery is not just attached to the keyboard, but also the logic board which controls a lot of the computer.  A very difficult repair I’m told.

So in Apple’s insane quest to get laptops a few millimeters thinner, a standard repair like a battery swap takes 3 days.  Now it turns out that it doesn’t actually take 3 days, its just the line is really long and it does apparently take several hours per machine.

I Thought I Made a Reservation?

But didn’t I make a reservation?  I scheduled it 5 days in advance, I submitted all my details including the error message and serial numbers.

Doesn’t matter.  The tech informs me that they don’t even bother reading those notes until 3 minutes before they call the customers names.

At this point I ask for the store manager.  I politely point out that three days time to service a pro laptop with a sticker price of 4,000 seems ludicrous.  He informs me that  for the Apple stores are really setup for consumers.

If you need professional level service you need to sign up for Apple’s optional coverage plan for businesses (called Joint Venture) for premium service.  It’s only $500 to cover 5 machines for one year each (in addition to having Apple care on each machine).

At this point, I just about lost it.

Pro Machines Aren’t Really for Pros

Doesn’t matter if you buy a top end machine (or in our case about 5 machines a year for the office).  If you want a pro machine to be serviced with one day turnaround you have to pay extra on top of the extra you already paid for the warranty.

At this point I leave the store and contact a local Apple Certified Reseller who has an extensive in-house repair center.  Originally they quoted me same day service.

Except it turns out Apple won’t let them do this.  They’re not allowed to keep parts in stock. Apple requires that they run a diagnostic on the machine to verify that there was a problem.  I pointed out that Apple just ran that diagnostic test.  Didn’t matter.  The reseller had to run his own before Apple would send him the part.  Paying of course for overnight express shipping.

How Long Does it Take to Change the Battery in a Mac Laptop?

So it appears the fastest you can get a Mac laptop battery changed is 2 days.  And that you’ll have to make at least two car trips.

So Apple, the “environmentally conscious” company that it is, has failed.

The red tape and bureaucracy has created a system where a standard part (that has to be replaced on every laptop during its useful life) requires a minimum of two round trip car rides and an express overnight shipment for a single part.

It’ll take two-four days without the machine you need to run your business too.

Yeah…. that’s crazy.

Perhaps I’m just not “getting it,” but it seems like a simple battery swap shouldn’t involve so much effort.

Service Battery is Likely a Meaningless Warning

And the key take away here, don’t believe your Mac when it says the battery has failed.  The truth here is once your battery loses its ability to hold about 80% of its original charge Apple wants your machine.  Be prepared to give up $400, 3 or 4 days, or both.

All because it’s failed to meet Apple standards.

Your thoughts welcome and I encourage you to share this story.  Perhaps Apple can figure out a better way to service their customers and not waste so much in gas and fuel charges.

______

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Join the conversation! 27 Comments

  1. Took the official apple store in Amsterdam 3 hours for a battery swap while my normal reseller quoted 3 days for me.. Think the service is really dependent on the country you live in.

    Reply
  2. This is one of the things that bother me so much about apple products. PC’s are not perfect, but I can work on them and replace parts without this kind nonsense and expense.

    Reply
  3. I am surprised that it died in 1-1/2 years. Should last longer than that. Are you the type to recharge frequently, or let the batter go through the full discharge? Frequent unnecessary charging still shortens life.

    Reply
    • It didn’t die. That’s my point. It still holds 80% of the original charge but Apple says it needs to be replaced. Bad for the environment and bad for the pocketbook.

      Reply
      • Understood and agree!. I like you use both Dell a Apple products. I just last week replaced my Dell battery, something which I did in 2 minutes for under $150. I still love the MacBook Pro, but it scares me if the battery alarm goes off.

        Reply
  4. I’ve been contemplating a Macbook Air to replace my PC laptop for some time. It’s stories such as this that slap me in the face and make me ask why. Their products are beautiful, as I already have an iPhone and iPad, but my workflow is fine on a PC desktop that is more powerful and less expensive that I can modify as I choose.

    Reply
  5. An amazing story! This story needs to go viral, so that Apple formally responds. Poor product-maintenance design, is an example of Apple ‘s business model of disposable technology. Shame on Apple!!!

    joeKilanowski

    >

    Reply
  6. When my old MBP came up with the Service Battery warning, I ignored it because I kept the machine plugged in most of the time anyway. Mine was an older style, user replaceable, battery and I just did not need it. But, I never looked at it, and that was a mistake. The battery was very swollen and basically a hazard. I finally noticed it when I was getting the machine ready to sell, and I’m lucky it never caused any other issues.

    I’ve also been an HP influencer partner for years, and I have to point out that HP has their own service issues. I’ve had people buy servers with Next Business Day on-site service coverage only to be told a failed HDD was not in stock – 7 day estimate. A HDD in a server RAID fails and nothing available. After digging deeper, it ends up it was in stock IF they had purchased a Care Pack warranty because that brings the service in-house at HP. The standard warranty is a third party and uses a different warehouse. So HP had a drive in _their_ warehouse the client could not have.

    Razz

    Reply
  7. Sounds like you have a retina MacBook Pro. Those batteries are rated for 1000 cycles before they hit 80 percent capacity. Meaning, you can cycle it almost every day for 3 years before hitting the limit. Even then the batteries don’t say they need service unless the computer can detect something wrong, which in your case it did. Most people won’t hit the 1000 cycle mark until they’ve had the machine for closer to 5 years. The fact that you got this message now means that there is something wrong with your battery…it could be something innocuous but it could also lead to a swelling and potentially dangerous situation.

    Reply
  8. Ouch, sorry to hear of your bad experience! The way the new MBP’s are is one of the reasons I’m hanging onto my unibody for as long as possible!

    I do have to say though, I’ve had really good experiences with Apple to where my AppleCare actually got me a brand new Mac one year when they couldn’t fix my problem. The downtime was resolved by getting a loaner Mac from the authorized repair shop and just swapping the drives until mine was ready.

    I think the reseller who sold you the AppleCare should have informed you how it works and maybe going to them to resolve this would be an idea as well.

    Hope you get this figured out!

    Reply
  9. Had a MacBook Pro for a couple of years that I sold a few months ago.

    Was thinking of replacing with a Retina but a 15-inch model could easily go up to $2500. Stories like this makes you think twice though.

    Plus I always avoided AppleCare, which isn’t cheap for laptops, because my credit card company gives me a second year of coverage, so it didn’t seem like a third year from AppleCare was worth few hundred dollars additional.

    If that expensive AppleCare doesn’t cover an expensive battery replacement …

    Reply
  10. I hava a similar configuration , same age. No problem so far, however I have migrated all my images from Aperture to Lightroom in case one day I have to say adios apple.
    I can’t be the only one on this planet that thinks like this, and apple ,with its poor Aperture upgrades and your type of experience must be losing customers who spend considerable amounts of money with them on a regular basis.
    I spent $A4500 on my Mac – a PC configured the same way would have cost much less

    Reply
  11. Here’s what Apple says about battery replacement:

    http://support.apple.com/kb/index?page=servicefaq&geo=United_States&product=Macnotebooks

    The listed price is $199+tax for a MacBookPro with Retina display ($129 for a non-retina MBP), and the Apple Store should replace it same-day. When I had a similar problem, I had the store order the battery, and then went back to have to replaced while I waited.

    Reply
  12. Wow, maybe they were trying to gouge or were unaware of that page.

    $199 sounds more reasonable. Still a lot of money but the 15-inch Retinas start at $2000 so it’s 10% instead of 20% ($400).

    Reply
  13. Sadly, the guy you spoke to was very wrong. There are 2 part numbers for the same part depending on why it is being replaced. If the top case is damaged, or failed out of warranty, it’s 399. If it is a failed (out of warranty) or consumed battery, it is as stated above, $199, and 24 hours to replace. For validating your AppleCare, drop the machine for repair, go home, call AppleCare, email a copy of your receipt/proof of purchase, by the time you pick up the repair, you are golden. This is done nearly daily at every store in the country.

    Reply
  14. Changing batteries used to be so simple. This is a case of form over function.

    Reply
  15. Nightmare it is.. Didnt realized the battery was that cumbersome to replace. Connected to keyboard, logic board etc.? This is ridiculous.

    Reply
  16. Guess I am justified in my dislike of Apple – just one more reason I refuse to own an I-anything :-)

    Reply
  17. LiPo (and lithium ion) batteries has a very small margin of useful capacity. If it discharges too much it will become useless, same if you overcharge. You don’t want to push a LiPo battery beyond its life and physical limit or it will expand or even worse cause a fire. It has nothing to do with Apple or any other manufacture trying to make money off new batteries. The last thing you want to do is throw a old LiPo battery in the trash then have something crack it or puncture it while in the trash, very bad things will happen.

    Reply
  18. Not sure where you determined that the battery held 80% of its charge. The diagnostic screen you showed us says the “Percent Battery FCC:” was 79.51% and that it’s seen 652 Full Charge Cycles. If you’ve only owned it for approximately 540 days, that means you’ve taken it off-power-cord for the equivalent of EVERY DAY down to system shutdown, plus 112 nights down to system shutdown. With due respect, that’s an absolute beating on the battery and the charging system. I’ve seen my MBP go from 20 minutes runtime remaining to dead in the blink of an eye, and upon reboot my system said the battery needed to be serviced. I suspect your MBP detected the same thing: your battery was no longer capable of accurately reporting its charge state especially at the bottom of the curve, and therefore it was nearly dead. Assuming you’d gone through the 652 FCCs (in other words, you’ve run the battery through a cumulative 65200% of its capacity, whether that’s 10% last hour or 80% today or whatever), you only had another ~167 FCCs before the battery was completely exhausted, which you’d probably do in the next 4.6 months.

    As far as the $400 for the battery+keyboard module, you and the rest of us keep putting our dollars where we want the manufacturers to go, which is smaller and smaller laptops. To make it that small, that’s the optimization that they take. If you don’t like that approach, DON’T BUY THEIR PRODUCTS. Just don’t. They clearly don’t suit you, and clearly there’s another brand better for you (hint: pick one where the battery can be swapped out externally, so you can buy a new one every 1-2 years).

    As far as the turnaround time for the repair, sounds like you got the short end of the stick. But as far as having a reservation, you and I both know that your reservation was for a diagnostic session with a smiley person in a company t-shirt, not the geeky tech in the back who doesn’t deal with customers directly (and heaven help us if he were to ever take care of you on the floor…I can’t imagine the hate and vitriol you’d put on this blog if that happened). That geeky tech has a queue, because that’s the best use of his time, which is Apple’s best way to keep service rates as low as they are.

    So you say Pro Machines Aren’t Really for Pros, but you admit that there’s a premium service plan that you didn’t select. Does Canon give expedited service turnaround on their 1-series cameras? Nope. You have to get CPS for that. If you’re going to bag Apple for having multiple tiers of service turnaround, you’d better start bagging Canon, Nikon, and anyone/everyone else you deal with for the same reasons, because it’s all the same no matter where you go.

    I have a four-year-old MBP. The battery threw a “Service Battery” alert nine months ago, and since then I’ve stopped using it as my desktop computer (got a Mac Mini for that), stopped putzing around the Internet and/or doing my consulting work on the couch (thank my wife for that), and basically keep it around for the occasional travel needs (specifically our upcoming Alaska cruise where we don’t have enough memory cards to make it through the week, nor do I want to stock up on cards when hard disks or SSDs are cheaper). It could use a new touchpad, probably more RAM (especially if/when I load Lightroom 5), and I’d like to replace the internal HD with an SSD, but it works fine for me, four years later. I don’t think Apple is a complete failure, thanks.

    Reply
    • Umm 79.51% vs. 80% …. ever hear of rounding?

      And yes… I’m a road warrior. Fly an air plane and your machine will go through a bunch of charges. I also frequently need to move from floor to floor in the office. How I run my machines and how hard I push them is part of my job and none of your business.

      My complaints have NOTHING to do with having to replace a battery because I wore it out… Zip … Nada. As demanding as my workflow is, I expect it.

      It’s that it takes 3-4 days and $400 to replace one and having to pay $500 extra on top of Apple Care is ridiculous.

      Your long-winded response is completely missing the mark.
      You make assumptions about me and my feelings for Apple that aren’t true.

      The point of the article is that:
      A battery replacement should take 1 day.
      Preventing service vendors outside of Apple stores from keeping parts is dumb.
      Apple should be more aware of wasting time and energy with multiple car trips and overnight shipping.

      But rage on.

      Reply

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About Richard Harrington

Richard Harrington is the founder of RHED Pixel, a visual communications company based in Washington, D.C. He is the Publisher of Photofocus and Creative Cloud User as well as an author on Lynda.com. Rich has authored several books including From Still to Motion, Understanding Photoshop, Professional Web Video, and Creating DSLR Video.

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Apple, Business, Gear, Opinion, Review

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