A couple of weeks ago, I wrote in this space some thoughts about Apple Inc. senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller’s lament about 600 million PCs with more than five years behind them still in use benign “sad” while that’s a metric that makes me want to do a happy danced. I routinely get way more than five years out of my Macs, which over the years have happily usually had the engineering, build craftsmanship and materials quality to go the distance and then some.
I also got three and a half years of daily service from my original iPad 2, which is still going strong for my wife as it approaches the five year milestone.
Consequently, it was very interesting last week to learn Apple’s specific expectations regarding first owner service lifespans for its products, stating on an question and answer web page environmental issues that:
“Years of use, which are based on first owners, are assumed to be four years for OS X and tvOS devices and three years for iOS and watchOS devices.”
That probably reflects real world replacement cycles for most users, including me, but I expect that few folks who have ponied up $300 to $17,000 on an Apple Watch will be enchanted to learn that Apple expects them to buy another in just three years, and this revelation once again calls into question whether the Apple Watch really qualifies as a “watch” at all, suggesting that it’s really a wearable iPhone client device with a time readout in a wristwatch-like form factor.
That’s a POV shared by none other than Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who observed at the Future Transport Summit in Sydney on 18 Apr 2016, cited by The Register, that wearables are “not a compelling purchase,” just don’t offer much computing power and are frustratingly dependent on phones for connectivity, rating his Apple Watch as “an expense that bought me a few extra niceties in my life”. An Apple Watch skeptic from the get-go, I don’t think many users will be upgrading at three-year intervals, if at all.
A real mechanical watch costing as much as either end of the Apple Watch price spectrum can be expected to last for decades and probably be handed down as a family heirloom. Case in point, the Swiss-crafted Aquastar auto-winder on my wrist right now, which is at least 40 years old and quite possibly half that again, was originally owned by my late father in law and handed on to me.
However, it’s reassuring to discover that Apple actually does expect its devices to be useful tools for longer than three or four years. In its just-released Environmental Responsibility 2016 Progress Report, Covering Fiscal Year 2015 , Apple states:
“One of the best ways to use a resource is to reuse it. We work hard to keep electronic devices out of landfills so that the precious resources they contain can be reused. And we want to ensure that these devices are recycled properly so they don’t pose a threat to human health or the environment. That’s why we’ve developed recycling collection events, take-back initiatives, and e orts like Apple Renew, a global program that lets you bring used Apple devices to any Apple Store for reuse or responsible recycling.”
“A durable device is a greener device. When products can be used longer, fewer resources need to be extracted from the earth to make new ones. So we assess all our products in our Reliability Testing Lab, using custom, comprehensive measures. And we release regular software updates that keep our products current and reduce how often they need to be replaced.”
All true, and highly commendable. A lot of folks really don’t need and would never use the power of the latest hardware, and can get along quite happily with older machines. For instance my wife’s daily driver home computer is a 2003 17-inch PowerBook running OS X 10.5 Leopard, and even her computer at work is an old PC of similar vintage running Windows 7. The current OS X 10.11 El Capitan still supports (and runs well on) my late 2008 aluminum unibody MacBook, and even on some Mac models from 2007.
My mid-2013 13-inch Haswell MacBook Air is in many respects the best computer I’ve even owned. However, I don’t think there will be many of these machines still in service with more than five or six years use on them, the main limiting factor likely to be battery lifespan. With most Mac laptops sold prior to about 2010, you could just swap in a new replacement battery when the original got spavined. However, more recent MacBooks have their batteries difficult to access and fastened to the aluminum housing with epoxy, making replacement a job for a trained technician, with DIY reserved for advanced amateurs only.
“Your battery is designed to retain up to 80% of its original capacity at 1000 complete charge cycles. The one-year warranty includes replacement coverage for a defective battery. Apple offers a battery replacement service for all MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro notebooks with built-in batteries.”
Specifically, Apple battery replacement for the 11-inch/13-inch MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook, and 13-inch/15-inch MacBook Pro is $129; for the 17-inch MacBook Pro it’s $179; and for the 12-inch MacBook and 13-inch or 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display it’s $199 (all prices cited exclude taxes).
That’s actually not too bad, but it involves shipping the laptop off to Apple for the service, which is a lot more hassle than buying a user swappable battery and the few seconds it takes to replace on older machines. I’m skeptical that many owners of five year old or older MacBooks with glued in batteries will bother.
According to the cool free battery information utility coconutBattery, my 2 1/2 year old MacBook Air has lost 10 percent of its battery capacity already, with the maximum charge it will accept being 6,456 mAh — down from a design capacity of 7,150 mAh. That would suggest if the deterioration is linear (I haven’t a clue whether it is or not), I would be down to 80 percent capacity around the five year mark, at which point a decision will have to be made. By then the likelihood will be that I will have a newer Mac laptop in service as my number one computer, making a relatively pricey battery replacement a questionable expense from a value perspective. It will probably live out its useful life tethered to a wall current outlet, with little chance that it will still be in use aged 16 years like the two 2000 Pismo PowerBooks I still have performing useful tasks.