The past few years have seen an explosion of thin devices from Apple and competitors. Thin iPhones. Thin iPads. Thin Macs. Thinner and lighter seems to be the mantra among mobile device manufacturers these days. One could and maybe should ask the question, “When is thin too thin?”
Seriously. How thin does an iPhone, iPad, or Mac really need to be if thin by itself sacrifices strength and impacts battery life? Sure, we wold love to have a thinner Watch but there is more going on in that diminutive device than just battery. The late 2016 MacBook Pro models were criticized as being too thin at the expense of battery life and power.
How thin is too thin?
All Day Battery Life
Way back when, back in the early days of the iPhone and iPad, a device could be used for about a day, meaning it would be on and available for use all day, but could be used heavily for about 10 hours. A few years later we began to see thinner devices but with roughly the same battery power.
Even larger screen iPhones came with only a few more hours of usage despite much larger batteries (larger screens require more power), so we’re still here with about a day of battery life, on average. Mac notebooks began to hit the same 10-hour level once shed of spinning hard disk drives and spinning Superdrive CD/DVD players.
Yes, batteries improved over the same period, as did macOS and iOS’s ability to sip power instead of gulp power. The recent Consumer Reports scandal regarding the new MacBook Pro’s battery problems notwithstanding, most devices get about 10 hours or say of average, every day use, even though devices themselves get thinner every year or two.
How thin is too thin?
PC giant HP says Apple’s MacBook Pro is too thin and offers up some lame proof, while pointing out they have the customer’s back and decided to make a slightly thicker notebook so it would still have all day battery life in a device with a 4k display. HP says customers care most about battery life, keyboard quality, and connector ports.
So, HP’s latest 4K notebook is thicker to get 13 hours of battery life to match a bunch of connector port options and a keyboard that users like and don’t complain about (much; users complain about everything because 21st century).
We can look at HP’s stance on thin in one of at least a couple of ways.
First, HP didn’t have the technology to offer thin and light– with good battery life and a higher resolution display– so chose to make a thicker device that could.
Second, HP decided that such notebooks are thin enough already and customers prefer better battery life to thinner and lighter.
Regardless of HP’s perspective, HP’s new Spectre x360 gets kudos from reviewers for its large touchpad and luxurious feel, while the 2-in-1 touchscreen design requires extra thickness, yet still provides nominal battery life.
The Real Problem
In the race for thin and light, or thinner and lighter, one fact is often overlooked. That’s what customers want. That’s what customers buy. Why? Because battery life on nearly every iPhone, iPad, and Mac remains what it has been for years. Roughly all day, somewhere around 10 hours of usage. If battery life were so all important, then why hasn’t a manufacturer come out with a Windows PC notebook with 24 hours of battery life? Why don’t we see smartphones with battery life of 48 hours?
Sidebar: I can get 48 hours from Watch Series 2, and nearly 48 hours from iPhone 7 Plus, but that depends upon usage; otherwise I just charge them up like everyone else does– once a day.
If battery life was absolute nirvana among device owners, surely some manufacturer somewhere would have created a nice looking Windows PC device with a battery life that borders on a few days rather than half a day or less.
Ditto for turning the MacBook Pro into something less of a professional machine by eliminating storage and RAM upgrades and battery replacement options. Which, by the way, were exactly the same on the previous generation of MacBook Pro models. It’s been awhile since customers could upgrade anything on a MacBook Pro.
But I digress.
As is always the case, users– customers– remain the problem. We’re a diverse group and thanks to the interwebs, we’ve become more vocal about everything. A device maker has to choose a product configuration that benefits the most number of customers and still sell in quantities to make a profit. Don’t like the battery life in your iPhone? Get in line. Nobody does. But nobody has anything much better. Don’t like the RAM or storage limits in those new Mac notebooks? It’s not a problem for most, but look around. Even the highly touted Microsoft Surface Book has similar configuration issues and similar battery life.
As is the case with Moore’s Law, we may be very close to the physical limits of how thin and light we can get– without something drastic happening to case design and materials. Ditto for battery life. The laws of physics are out there but we can see them more clearly now. All of us want thinner and lighter and more powerful– and longer battery life. But there are limits, or, rather, plateaus where we await the next revolution in design, materials, and technology advancements. Then we start the same process all over again.