16 votes

Apple will extend the lifespan of your AirPods by choosing when they charge

15 comments

  1. [13]
    emdash
    (edited )
    Link
    This is a huge deal. AirPods have tiny batteries—like, really tiny. 93mWh tiny. They suffer heavily from battery degradation on a timespan that's noticeable to consumers due to frequent usage and...

    This is a huge deal. AirPods have tiny batteries—like, really tiny. 93mWh tiny. They suffer heavily from battery degradation on a timespan that's noticeable to consumers due to frequent usage and the high number of charge and discharge cycles that they endure—when you throw them in the case, the case charges them all the way up to 100%, even after you've just used them.

    I have some first generation AirPods that were purchased October 2017. When I first used them, I got close to the stated expected battery longevity of 5 hours. Now, June 2020—32 months later—I'll get ~90 minutes of listening out of them from podcasts, and maybe ~70 minutes on music. This hasn't actually affected me until recently because I'm not usually someone who listens to music via headphones for extended periods of time, but when you're on a plane or finishing a workout and you hear the ding-dong-doom low battery warning, it isn't exactly enthusing.

    This is a direct example of Apple putting consumer satisfaction ahead of profit, by extending the usable life time of a product, in my case, from 3 years, to maybe longer—4 to 5 years. AirPods, unfortunately given the nature of their design, are inherently non-serviceable. When you ask to "replace the battery in my AirPods", what they're really doing, and what you're paying for, is having that AirPod thrown out, and a new one given to you—that needs to change too, but this is a good first step.

    This won't save my current AirPods, but it'll save my AirPods Pro and eventually my next set of AirPods when I get around to purchasing those.

    11 votes
    1. [9]
      vord
      Link Parent
      I mean, that's really what it's all about isn't it? Not just Apple, but the collective direction modern industry has taken. At some point, companies discovered that it was cheaper to make things...

      AirPods, unfortunately given the nature of their design, are inherently non-serviceable

      I mean, that's really what it's all about isn't it? Not just Apple, but the collective direction modern industry has taken.

      At some point, companies discovered that it was cheaper to make things that were not easily serviceable. In the process, it also increased sales, since it gave a more consistent shorter lifespan.

      Thus, everything now degrades rapidly, and gets trashed instead of fixed. Look at almost all appliances from before the 90's. Almost every mechanical one can be serviced today by anybody with a few basic tools and a couple youtube videos. My current washer now has a complex circuit board which isn't serviceable even by trained technicians, it just gets swapped out and trashed if it breaks. Oh, and if it breaks out of warranty, it'll cost almost half what a new washer will.

      We don't need completely un-repairable circuit boards in medium-large appliances. We don't need things like soldered batteries or storage. With minimal compromises in design we could easily have repairable, perhaps even upgrade-able, smartphones and other devices.

      10 votes
      1. Akir
        Link Parent
        That's not a problem with the design, it's a problem with the service. It's cheaper to tell people to swap boards than it is to actually train them to repair them. It's been like this for every...

        My current washer now has a complex circuit board which isn't serviceable even by trained technicians, it just gets swapped out and trashed if it breaks.

        That's not a problem with the design, it's a problem with the service. It's cheaper to tell people to swap boards than it is to actually train them to repair them. It's been like this for every electrical appliance for decades.

        The thing is, when a certified technician replaces a board under warranty, typically they are expected to send that board back to the factory, at which point they usually repair it. At the minimum they inspect the board to find the fault so they can prevent the problem from recurring in future revisions.

        Beyond that, you may also be dealing with survivorship bias. You see all these old appliances still running and see modern stuff failing, so you assume that all the old stuff lasted longer. The truth of the matter is that there were plenty of old defective products - they all just got replaced, and you don't have any way to know how reliable they may or may not have been.

        8 votes
      2. [6]
        NaraVara
        Link Parent
        On the flip side, consider how much less energy and water modern appliances use. And how much less they weigh. I don't know what the lifecycle environmental impact is, but I don't think it's...

        Almost every mechanical one can be serviced today by anybody with a few basic tools and a couple youtube videos. My current washer now has a complex circuit board which isn't serviceable even by trained technicians, it just gets swapped out and trashed if it breaks.

        On the flip side, consider how much less energy and water modern appliances use. And how much less they weigh. I don't know what the lifecycle environmental impact is, but I don't think it's outside the realm of possibility that even with having way shorter life-spans they end up saving a lot more by being more efficient.

        We don't need things like soldered batteries or storage.

        The thing is, with something like AirPods almost all the physical space and material cost is the battery anyway. The cost of the circuitry, design, software, and all the miniaturization know-how is significant because of the IP embodied into it, but the raw material costs of making them are pretty negligible on the margins. So if the concern is the cost or environmental impact of not being able to user-replace the batteries, replacing the AirPods entirely doesn't actually add much impact above just replacing the batteries.

        5 votes
        1. [5]
          vord
          Link Parent
          For soldered batteries/storage, I was mostly referring to smartphones. If those two things were user-replaceable, 16GB phones wouldn't be obsolete, and phones with soldered batteries that degrade...

          For soldered batteries/storage, I was mostly referring to smartphones. If those two things were user-replaceable, 16GB phones wouldn't be obsolete, and phones with soldered batteries that degrade don't need to be scrapped. I personally consider AirPods themselves to be an abomination, because it is a continuation of this mindset that style and convenience is more important than sustainability.

          how much less energy and water modern appliances use. And how much less they weigh

          Water use isn't really that big a deal in the broader scope of things. We need reusable freshwater treatments one way or the other. Electricity use is a very different story...it is very important.

          But couldn't this also be solved by replacing a less-efficient motor/compressor with a compatible more-efficient one? To build things in such a way that parts are easily swapped out? Is a few dollars of electricity/water savings a month worth the added resources it takes to replace a dishwasher/washer/dryer closer to 5-10 years instead of 15-20?

          Does weight even matter much at all? It's not like we're moving medium/large things around much once they're in place. Once you get a phone light enough that it isn't actively a burden....is it really important to release a new model every few years that shaves 20-100 grams off the weight? Sure, the lighter phone is nicer....but was the mildly heavier phone so much heavier that it was actively detracting you from using it?

          Does improved quality even matter beyond a certain point for technology? Is there any actual reason we need 50 inch or bigger televisions? Does having 4k TVs over 1080p TVs even really matter?

          I can see legitimate reasons for improving CPU/RAM/Storage etc. But we're hitting points of diminishing returns. Below 14nm manufacturing we're seeing quantum degradation of circuits over time. Maybe it makes sense to keep pushing those bountries for major computing needs...but maybe we should consider a technology 'done' when it's good enough to serve its purpose and isn't actively acting as a detriment hampering other progress.

          2 votes
          1. [4]
            NaraVara
            Link Parent
            Before AirPods people were using the bundled in wired headphones that had a 1-year expected lifetime of regular use. That's a lot more discarded copper and raw material than AirPods include. Not...

            I personally consider AirPods themselves to be an abomination, because it is a continuation of this mindset that style and convenience is more important than sustainability.

            Before AirPods people were using the bundled in wired headphones that had a 1-year expected lifetime of regular use. That's a lot more discarded copper and raw material than AirPods include.

            But couldn't this also be solved by replacing a less-efficient motor/compressor with a compatible more-efficient one?

            Not really. Part of the utility of having onboard computers is that they can precisely tune it based on all sorts of sensor data that can react to how occluded the water is, how much weight is in the machine, etc. The low-hanging fruit of more efficient motors and stuff was picked long ago.

            Does weight even matter much at all? It's not like we're moving medium/large things around much once they're in place.

            It does when you work in shipping and logistics, as well as the carbon footprint of producing and moving stuff from place to place.

            Is there any actual reason we need 50 inch or bigger televisions? Does having 4k TVs over 1080p TVs even really matter?

            At this point you might as well as if there is any actual reason we need TVs at all. Or even a space program for that matter. It's not on any one person to decide how good is good enough for stuff. Engineers want to push the envelope. If they convince people they made something cool and worth owning people will buy it. It may not be for you, but we can't just decide that on behalf of everyone else.

            5 votes
            1. [3]
              vord
              Link Parent
              I'll concede most of your other points, as my stance is probably more extreme than most. I guess. I would love to see if someone ran some numbers to compare the improvements computing made over...

              I'll concede most of your other points, as my stance is probably more extreme than most.

              Part of the utility of having onboard computers is that they can precisely tune it based on all sorts of sensor data that can react to how occluded the water is, how much weight is in the machine, etc. The low-hanging fruit of more efficient motors and stuff was picked long ago.

              I guess. I would love to see if someone ran some numbers to compare the improvements computing made over the low-hanging fruit.

              It does when you work in shipping and logistics, as well as the carbon footprint of producing and moving stuff from place to place.

              It's a factor, undoubtedly. But it could easily swing the other direction. If they shave 50 lb off a 200 lb washer, sure it'll be greener to ship around and produce. But if I have to replace that 150 lb washer 2x as often as the 200 lb washer, it's still a net loss as you're then moving 100 lb more over time.

              1 vote
              1. NaraVara
                Link Parent
                In a lot of cases the equipment is only hard to repair because they're redesigning them too frequently to retain tooling and production of the old replacement parts economically. And also, labor...

                But if I have to replace that 150 lb washer 2x as often as the 200 lb washer, it's still a net loss as you're then moving 100 lb more over time.

                In a lot of cases the equipment is only hard to repair because they're redesigning them too frequently to retain tooling and production of the old replacement parts economically. And also, labor costs are too high. If you could cut the cost of living, repairs would be much more viable and business models that focused on it would be too. Apple actually does manage this, since their high margins allow them to have a pretty solid and generous repair/returns policy.

                At some point most of the improvements with the computing revolution will be picked over and we'll resettle at an equilibrium where longevity becomes more of a priority again. You're already seeing this in smartphones, where the lifecycles have stretched from 1-2 years to 3-5 years. Or laptops where it's gone from 2-3 years to 5-8 years.

                1 vote
              2. Akir
                Link Parent
                You really don't need to worry about that; the engineers who designed the products already have that data. The fact that the data isn't public doesn't really make much of a difference because...

                I guess. I would love to see if someone ran some numbers to compare the improvements computing made over the low-hanging fruit.

                You really don't need to worry about that; the engineers who designed the products already have that data. The fact that the data isn't public doesn't really make much of a difference because there is no real reason to doubt it; there are real market incentives to increase efficiency.

                1 vote
      3. babypuncher
        Link Parent
        I don't know how you would make the batteries serviceable without making the AirPods unpleasantly bulky. I think the bigger concern with AirPods is just the monetary cost of replacement. The raw...

        I don't know how you would make the batteries serviceable without making the AirPods unpleasantly bulky.

        I think the bigger concern with AirPods is just the monetary cost of replacement. The raw materials they use are completely negligible compared to far more disposable things like bottled water.

        1 vote
    2. vord
      Link Parent
      I have a separate followup reply the more I thought about this... I question how truly 'pro-consumer' this move is, rather than a very calculated move to protect profits. No engineer at Apple...

      This is a direct example of Apple putting consumer satisfaction ahead of profit, by extending the usable life time of a product, in my case, from 3 years, to maybe longer—4 to 5 years.

      I have a separate followup reply the more I thought about this...

      I question how truly 'pro-consumer' this move is, rather than a very calculated move to protect profits. No engineer at Apple should be surprised that AirPods have pretty short lifespans, and that typical consumer use would further degrade that lifespan.

      I just think they're seeing far more people using the replacement program and not just upgrading to new version like they anticipated, so they're trying to reduce that replacement churn by extending their lifespans (which they could have done in the first place, but didn't).

      The fact that AirPods 2 were released 3 years after AirPods 1, right after your usable lifetime estimate is pretty damning evidence in my mind.

      2 votes
    3. NaraVara
      Link Parent
      Are they throwing it out or sending it to get refurbed? Do they even sell refurbed airpods?

      is having that AirPod thrown out

      Are they throwing it out or sending it to get refurbed? Do they even sell refurbed airpods?

    4. [2]
      Comment removed by site admin
      Link Parent
      1. Deimos
        Link Parent
        This is the second time I've had to remove a comment of yours for being oddly hostile towards Apple products and people that use them. Don't do it again. I highly recommend you stay away from...

        This is the second time I've had to remove a comment of yours for being oddly hostile towards Apple products and people that use them. Don't do it again. I highly recommend you stay away from Apple topics if you're unable to be reasonable while discussing them, because the next comment removal will come with a week-long ban.

        2 votes
  2. [2]
    MonkeyPants
    Link
    They also did something similar for macbooks. I wonder if Apple will get sued, like they did the last time they tried to extend battery life.

    They also did something similar for macbooks.

    I wonder if Apple will get sued, like they did the last time they tried to extend battery life.

    1 vote
    1. stu2b50
      Link Parent
      The difference is that this isn't throttling performance for battery gains. It's quite common for manufactures to control charging. Basically every device you own with a LI battery does it,...

      The difference is that this isn't throttling performance for battery gains. It's quite common for manufactures to control charging. Basically every device you own with a LI battery does it, because people like to do things that damage batteries like keep them charging (basically all devices stop charging at or near full charge to prevent damage)

      4 votes