Not So Big Data Blog Ramblings of a data engineer (or two)

Apple and the world's largest laptop battery

2 minute read

A reversion to the scissor-switch keyboard, a return of a physical escape key, tons of RAM, a good CPU and a downright-gorgeous screen. Apple’s freshly-announced 16” Macbook Pro is the first Apple laptop I’ve wanted to throw my own money at for the first time in nearly half a decade. It marks a return to form for the company who has, seemingly for the first time in a long time, decided to listen to its users (to some extent anyway, cough, touchbar, cough).

But what’s got me curious is the inclusion of a downright ridiculous 100Wh battery. This is signiciant – 100Wh is the largest capacity battery you are legally allowed to take on an aeroplane. Apple have maxed out the legal limit. If we want our devices to have longer battery life, we’ll need to improve things on an electronic level (since the limit is battery capacity not size, so better cell chemistry is largely irrelevant to consumer devices, beyond making things slimmer and lighter).

So how did we get here? I thought it would be interesting to scrape some data and find out how Apple got to this 100Wh hard limit.

The data is available freely online from a variety of sources. I’m hesitant to share my source or dataset, since a robots.txt wasn’t readily available (nor am I aware of any terms and conditions I agreed to – perhaps even without my explicit permission). Web scraping is still a somewhat grey area where it isn’t clear to me how best to tread, and until some protections for users are in place, I’ll have to play coy.

Anyway, enter data.

apple_battery_cap_vs_year

It’s clear that Apple has offered quite a few different battery capacities over time, with the Macbook Pro typically leading the pack, while the more entry-level Macbook Air and regular Macbooks tend to lag behind (almost definitely as a cost-saving measure). You can see the new 2019 16” Macbook Pro on the top right of the graph.

I’ve also included that trend-line for a reason. Notice how after around 2015, battery capacities drop? Apple fans (we’ll ignore the zealots) will likely sigh at this. From 2016 to the present was not a good period for Apple laptops as a consumer. Massively inflated prices, worse hardware, a terrible keyboard and the dreadful touchbar all make an appearance, as well as a massive reduction in battery capacity (many of these things driven by an obsession with “thinner and lighter” a la Jony Ive). I thought it was interesting to visibly see this trend after what many (myself included) consider to be the best laptop ever made: The 2015 Macbook Pro. I’ve labelled the 13- and 15-inch variants below for reference, to show you just how monumental they were:

apple_battery_cap_vs_year

That 15-inch way back in 2015 was way ahead of it’s time.

Either way, that’s it for now. It’s good to see Apple return to form and listen to its customers for a change. It’s just too bad the price of the 16” Macbook Pro is so damn outrageous that I’ll never consider buying one (the base model goes for over R40k, which is more than most people’s entire salary), so if there’s any room for improvement, that’s where I hope to find it.

Till next time,
Michael.