Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Apple’s Blue Ocean

John Siracusa (Hacker News):

I just can’t shake the idea that a return to removable, user-accessible batteries has now become a blue-ocean opportunity just waiting for Apple to seize it.


There’s more headroom than there has ever been to accommodate a tiny bit more size and weight in Apple’s portable products.


Second, people still crave the advantages of removable batteries that were left behind: increasing battery life by swapping batteries instead of using a cumbersome external battery pack, inexpensively and conveniently extending the life of a product by replacing a worn-out battery with a new one—without paying for someone else to perform delicate surgery on the device.

Finally, related to that last point, worn-out batteries are an extremely common reason that old tech products are traded in, recycled, or replaced. Removable batteries are an easy way to extend the useful life of a product. This leads to less e-waste, which is perfectly aligned with Apple’s environmental goals as 2030 approaches.

Aside from the cost in time and money, needing Apple or a repair shop to replace a battery is bad for privacy. Most people will just give the technician their passcode. If you want to be more careful, you can wipe the phone beforehand, but restoring from backup has problems. It’s slow, it’s lossy, and it requires a surprising number of manual steps, which don’t always succeed (e.g. credit cards and Apple Pay). Also, unless you back up to both iCloud and a Mac, you for a time only have one copy of your data.


18 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

Rhet Turnbull

> Aside from the cost in time and money, needing Apple or a repair shop to replace a battery is bad for privacy. Most people will just give the technician their passcode. If you want to be more careful, you can wipe the phone beforehand, but restoring from backup has problems.

I'd love to see replaceable batteries too but this specific privacy concern could be solved by Apple simply providing a guest account that could be accessed with a separate PIN. Would be helpful for border crossings and other places where there are privacy concerns. While they're at it, I'd love a "duress PIN" that sends location to friends and wipes the phone.

@Rhet Yes, see also the Samsung’s Repair Mode link above. It’s a shame Apple isn’t the privacy leader here.

Apple absolutely has a diagnostics mode for repairs, see

Apple doesn't need your password for iOS repairs and will only ask for macOS if the issue specifically calls for it. Even then, the technician needs to confirm two separate prompts that basically say "Are you absolutely sure you need the users password?"

Source: I used to work for Apple

Does Apple make more money from people buying whole replacement devices when their internal batteries fail than they would from some handwaved higher-priced removable battery model? They do? Then this idea is a nonstarter.

Extending the life of a product to the point where a customer can step off of the upgrade treadmill is counter to everything Apple actually stands for.

@J I asked both multiple Apple support people and my local non-Apple store, and they all said they needed the passcode for a battery replacement.

@vintner Similar to the throttling situation. Imagine if iOS had told people that the problem was the battery and if the customer could just replace it themselves. They’d have sold a lot fewer new phones.

Harald Striepe

I just got the runaround to have my Apple Watch battery replaced under extended AppleCare+. They will not do it unless THEIR tool shows it's at less than 80%. I get 8-10 hours with its apps and notifications stripped. Worse if I use it for exercise. I never worried about it.
I started looking at what it takes to replace the battery. When you look at the internal design, all it would take to make the top removable. The battery already is a neat block with a clip connector. The challenge now is to work through the adhesive holding the top down.
In other words, for many Apple devices, this does not look like a design challenge. AirPods would be a different story,

Allow me to offer a moderately spicy take:

Moving back to swappable batteries will extend the service life of the average Mac laptop…and ensure that a higher percentage of Macs in use are on a version of macOS so old that it doesn't get security updates anymore. This will make security worse for anyone still using them who isn't brave enough to switch to Asahi Linux.

Dying batteries that get people upgrading sooner than they'd like keeps more people using an operating system that gets security updates, and that's a good thing, although whether it's a good thing on net is definitely debatable.

Sure, Apple could have patches for its older OSs for longer than they currently do, but that seems like a taller ask for them than shipping iPhones by slow boat instead of fast jet and adding in the infrastructure to update the OS for the thing once they've arrived at the local Apple Store.

Of course, while we argue about forced strongly encouraged obsolescence caused by the decision to not backport security fixes for something like a decade, a bunch of people in Redmond are gearing up to say "hold my beer" in unison.

Are you really under such a strong threat of being hacked/exploited just because you happen to be on Mojave or Crapalina?

The biggest exploit surface is undoubtedly the web browser. Firefox ESR still supports back to 10.12, and regular Firefox still supports Crapalina.

No one should use Chrome, but that seems to support Crapalina and newer.

- Sent from my 2010 Mac Pro, running 12.7.1 thanks to OCLP.

If you're talking about phones, there are a couple clear physical issues with swappable batteries. One is the physical strength that will be compromised by a user replaceable battery, and the other is the liquid seal which will be much harder to make impervious.

For a laptop, I don't think either of these are serious issues, but for a phone, they definitely are, as much as I'd like to be able to swap my phone battery myself I don't know that I'd make the tradeoff.

This isn't even close to qualify as a Blue Ocean. There are both phones and laptops that have user replaceable batteries (and more).

This might be a strategy to keep environmentally conscious Apple users from switcing to Android / Windows / Linux. But that's not what Blue Ocean startegy means.

I personally don't think it's beneficial to ruin the environment so that Apple won't have to provide security patches for these imaginary repairable laptops. I hope to god that EU will enforce very strict right to repair rules, and it sure looks like it.

Imagine if Apple used all their great enginering and supply chain skills to produce super repairable products (instead of pretending shredding components and planting grass is actually net 0)

Imagine what fantastic devices we'd get.

Mike Richardson asks:

Are you really under such a strong threat of being hacked/exploited just because you happen to be on Mojave or Crapalina?

Yes, if your browser supports WebP but isn't getting the new version that doesn't have the 0-day vulnerability, you are that threatened.

I expect the rest of the world to find similar vulnerabilities.

While it's a good idea to switch to a browser that is getting updated if you're stuck on a Mac that isn't getting OS updates, I can't expect satisfied Safari users to switch unless explicitly pushed by a knowledgeable friend.

Apple's not going to do this, for one simple reason: If batteries were removable, the customer could install a battery that came from someone other than Apple.

Of course Apple doesn't want to lose that revenue. But more importantly, Apple doesn't want that risk to its reputation. If batteries were easily user-replaceable, many users would replace them with the cheapest knockoff they could find on Amazon or eBay. A lot of people would do that just before selling their phone, especially if the factory battery is obviously worn out. When those cheap batteries dramatically reduce the phone's runtime or performance—or worse yet, catch on fire—Apple will get the reputation hit. The headline will be "iPhone catches fire!," not "User's dumb choice of replacement battery causes fire."

Add that to removable batteries making phones and laptops thicker, heavier, creakier, less solid-feeling (and thus feeling less well-built) and Apple has no incentive whatsoever to return to trivially user-replaceable batteries.

I think a slightly thicker and heavier phone is a very minuscule sacrifice to make for our planet. They don't feel creaky and less solid by the way. I handled a Fairphone just the other day and it was very solid.

But yes, slightly thicker and heavier than a phone that has to be trashed when the battery dies.

I also think people are capable of checking batteries for themselves and I'm convinced Apple PR would be able to handle it if crappy third party batteries started catching fire. They managed to convince everyone they are champions of personal integrity despite the Fappening and despite selling tracking devices.

A lot of people here seem to think it would be a bad idea for Apple to genuinely do something for the environment.

Bad for their business
Bad for their PR

I don't get that sentiment. I find it sad.

@Rob Surely Apple would serialize the battery to prevent that?

@Kristoffer Indeed.

Controversial take. I don't want easily swappable batteries. Rather I would like batteries that are easily replaced during repair at home. Stop gluing/using adhesive the chassis, use gaskets, screws, and user serviceable clips instead. I think this is what right to repair should aim at. The use of adhesives and non-standard screws are the real enemy.

I actually like the thinness offered by removing the internal battery bay packaging and the packaging required for the battery itself. The cells Apple puts into their notebooks don't need to survive being tossed into a backpack but swappable ones would.
I'm not even convinced that the environmental effect of user swappable batteries would be positive as adding extra packaging would require additional plastic and metal and I'm not convinced that the in the long term the number of people who would have replaced their laptop or phone is going to go down significantly.

I think the fact that storage is soldered is a bigger long term issue than requiring disassembly to replace a battery, the soldered storage means laptops that fill up a new one needs to be purchased (unless the user is comfortable with some form of removable storage but this is a worse user experience).

> @J I asked both multiple Apple support people and my local non-Apple store, and they all said they needed the passcode for a battery replacement.

You were mislead, frustratingly. There is zero need for any user to share their passwords or passcodes with anyone for any legitimate repair needs.

Well of course Siracusa is right that allowing consumers to swap batteries would clearly be a good thing, but this is Apple, so ...

I imagine they'll take the much "easier" route of supporting their older devices for longer in software. (Of course, there will be caveats in order to keep the addicts on the latest hardware.)

I've never accepted that the removal of card slots and battery bays was ever absolutely necessary for the future progress of smartphones or laptops, or even that this was predominantly the reason why Apple did it, setting off a trend in the industry. It's a choice. A choice that, yes, has a few (I'd argue, fairly marginal) advantages for consumers, but which, for practical purposes, ultimately simply makes more economic sense for their manufacturers. Unfortunately, I fear that it will take regulation to set back this particular regression, and though I'm open to a compromise of needing tools in order to make it possible to use form-fitting cells (although I would prefer a recessed latch design with a form-fitted mould that would insert into a bay), I think Apple's intent is clearly to keep iron-clad control over their consumer experience, up to and including technical measures which would be very difficult to unpick without a lot of serious and radical rethinking of the current anti-circumvention provisions in the copyright legislation. I'd love to be wrong about this, but I'm fairly certain Apple's real interest in RTR legislation is simply to come out on "the right side of history", while ensuring that it maintains control over the pipeline for authentic Apple parts, not in necessarily preventing tinkerers from swapping a battery at home, but rather in securing the revenue from anyone wishing to replace a faulty part, for pleasure or pay.

Leave a Comment