Apple's Internal Memo to Service Technicians Show Battery in MacBook Is Not Replaceable

macbook pro
©. iFixit

© iFixit

We just got hold of an internal service tech announcement sent from Apple to its technicians. In it, it is explained that the new MacBook Pro with Retina has been announced and is now shipping, and that a couple training courses are required to be able to service the new laptops. It also explains a few handling must-dos for parts of the computer. The one that stands out to us is this:

• Top case assembly with battery
The MacBook Pro (Retina, Mid 2012) top case assembly includes an embedded battery, keyboard, fan ducts and microphone. Batteries must be replaced with the top case assembly. The battery alone is not a replaceable part.

This means a few things. First, it means that the glued-in battery is a problem for more than just the user who wants to replace their own battery. Not even professional repair technicians can safely pull the glued-in battery from the top case, and we know this because the pros at iFixit tried for hours, unsuccessfully, to do so -- let alone the fact that Apple tells its own people not to separate it, mentioning later in the memo, "batteries should not be separated from the top case assembly for any reason". And this leads us to the second clear issue -- only Apple is really going to be able to service this laptop, not a local repair shop. Having to buy the entire top case assembly in order to replace the battery won't be cost effective for anyone but Apple (which charges $179 for it).

A third issue this creates is that of recycling. Recyclers need to be able to easily disassemble products to recycle them. Yes, Apple has its own recycling program, so there is at least an option, but are other recyclers going to be able and willing to deal with this laptop? The options may be reduced to larger facilities if anyone but Apple is going to take them.

And finally, there's the issue of being required to replace what could be perfectly good components of the laptop. It's simply a waste to have to replace everything attached to the battery, rather than just the battery itself.

Sure, the counter argument is that Apple batteries have a fairly solid reputation and it's not necessarily likely that you'll have to replace the battery before you're ready to replace the entire laptop. But that's only the case for some consumers, not all. And it's only the case for first-round consumers, not those in the resell market.

It's just never a smart idea to have a component as important as the battery be unable to be removed and replaced on its own. Yes, we know that gluing in a battery is probably part of how the slimmer form factor is possible, is probably cheaper, is probably a way to reduce the complexity of the assembly process and streamline the manufacturing plant. But it's a sign of limited vision, of a blindness to cradle-to-cradle design principles. The cost is that now more parts have to be replaced, for no good reason, should there be an issue with the battery. And that's just simply a terrible idea.

We really, really hope that Apple rethinks its design and goes back to removable parts, back to a more user-accessible design. With its re-committment to EPEAT, perhaps that hope isn't too far off -- even listing its latest MacBooks as EPEAT Gold which likely will not last through EPEAT's verification procedures.