Regarding Battery Outliers

Marco Arment recently wrote about his unhappiness with the state of battery life in Apple’s product line-up.

As batteries and components advance, device designers are able to spend those advancements increasing battery life at a given size and weight, or they can keep battery life in the same range and just make the batteries (and therefore the devices) smaller and lighter. In recent years, Apple has chosen the latter almost every time.

[…] those battery graphs make it clear that battery life isn’t good enough across the board yet to stop pushing it forward as much as possible — especially if your use is closer to the “Heavy Workload” test, which I’d hardly describe as an unusual or truly heavy computational load (web browsing, downloading a large file, and playing a movie in the background), under which no Apple laptop lasted more than 6 hours and no Retina model exceeded 5.

Marco goes on to suggests a few products that Apple could increase the size of in order to change that — an iPhone with up to 100% more battery life, a 13-inch MacBook that features 12-16 hours of battery life, a 15-inch MacBook Pro with up to 12 hours of battery life, and a 17-inch Pro with battery life comparable to today’s 15-inch models. While I agree that there’s likely a sizeable market of users who would be willing to compromise aesthetics for the sake of battery life, I don’t think I’m a part of it.

The battery life I get from my iPhone 5s is still more than adequate, even though it’s over a year and a half old. I know that doesn’t sound like a raving endorsement, but I never charge my iPhone in the middle of the day and rarely hit 10% before bed time. I do spend most of my computing time on my iPad and could see someone with just an iPhone routinely running out of power before the end of the night, but that doesn’t happen with the way I use my devices.

As for my MacBook, I’m less than enthused about the battery life I see from it — I’m lucky if I get three hours at this point. But, it is nearly four years old and it’s definitely showing its age in the battery life department. What you must remember, though, is that my 2011 MacBook Air was one of the models that was released before Apple made that drastic jump in battery life a year or two later. Apple only claimed 5-hours of battery life on my MacBook Air — not the typical 9-12 hours they rate their notebooks for now. I’m obviously biased by my current experience, but I’m sure I’d be more than happy with 9-12 hours of battery life on my MacBook.

And, the main reason I can safely say that is because of the iPad. I usually get 8-10 hours out of battery life out with my iPad Air 2 and that’s been more than enough in my experience. I charge it every night and use it throughout the day without ever worrying that the battery might die right in the middle of an “important” game of Hearthstone. Even on my days off when I use it practically all day long it doesn’t die on me — all the while it’s the thinnest and lightest computing device I’ve ever used (aside from the iPhone) and I absolutely love it.

There’s a certain amount of joy I get from using my devices and I attribute that joy in no small part to their physical design, their thinness, their lightness. I believe that one of the reason’s I’ve been getting so much done lately is because I want to use my iPad. What would be the point of owning a thicker, less aesthetically appealing device with massive battery life if I don’t want to use it as much as its thinner and more attractively designed counterpart? Sure the battery would last all day, but the device wouldn’t inspire me to work as much as a beautifully designed piece of hardware does.

I can see the appeal for someone doing heavy duty tasks on their devices, though. I don’t prevent myself from doing anything that would impact battery life, but honestly I spend most of my time reading or writing text. I don’t do a lot of video or audio editing, I don’t do any computer programming, and only occassionally play games. I like to think of myself as a power user because of the amount of knowledge I have and the amount of time I spend on my devices, but I don’t really tax them like I used to.

But, I do place a great deal of value on my devices’ thinness and lightness. I like how my iPhone fits in my pocket and feels in my hand, I like how easy it is to carry my MacBook and I like that it can be placed in a smaller and more easy to carry bag because of its size. I can’t fault anyone for having different needs than I or a willingness to compromise in different ways, but I doubt I’ll be buying any devices that are larger than the ones I currently own as long as thinner and lighter options are available.