Apple tweaks charging MacBooks to extend battery life

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Apple introduces a new feature in most modern MacBooks called “Battery Health Management”. It will be available today for developers and will be included in the future macOS Catalina 10.15.5 update.

Enabled by default, the new feature aims to extend the overall life of your laptop battery by reducing the rate of chemical aging. It does this by not charging the battery to the maximum in some cases. Charging a full battery puts pressure on it which can reduce its longevity more quickly over time. Some phones now avoid charging 100% until you wake up just for that reason.

This means for your laptop that, in some cases, seeing 100% battery life in your menu bar does not necessarily mean that this is the maximum that your battery could charge. Instead of meaning that it is charged 100% of what the battery could take, it now means that it is charged 100% of what the battery should take to maximize its shelf life.

Apple says it will make sure that it won’t have a major impact on battery life, but won’t say what percentage a charge can be reduced.

You may not have to worry about it anyway, because Apple is strategic in how it targets the people who will be affected by this change. It uses your MacBook’s battery charge and temperature history to determine if your battery’s lifespan could be significantly extended by this feature.

The feature will apply to any MacBook that supports Thunderbolt 3. This includes all MacBook Pro since 2016 and MacBook Air models since 2018.

macbook pro 2016

Apple MacBook Pro
Photo of Vjeran Pavic

So, for example, if you’re the type of user who tends to have his laptop plugged in almost all the time, keeping your battery at 100% charge all the time is a recipe for shortening its lifespan. Apple says a variety of factors will play a role in the computer’s decision to initiate battery health management, including ambient temperature, processor loads, and charging modes.

Apple says the feature will be default, but users can disable it by accessing the power setting in macOS. All data from the battery health management function is collected and analyzed locally, the information is only sent to Apple if you agree to share the analyzes – and even then Apple says the data would remain anonymous.

To be clear, people are relying on their laptops more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic and may be leaving them plugged in for longer periods of time than before. It could mean that this update will help these MacBooks to last longer. It is also adaptive, so when your load patterns change, the function will adjust accordingly.

Apple’s announcements have arrived in unexpected bursts this season as the COVID-19 pandemic prevents the company from holding its usually splashy product launch events. Apple released an updated MacBook Air last month, and yesterday the company also introduced the iPhone SE.

The latest version of macOS, Catalina, was released in October. It added support for ported iOS apps, divided iTunes into a number of smaller services, and included an easy way to use an iPad as a secondary display. The update also included some frustrations, such as prominent security prompts which meant that applications had to ask for permission to do basic things, like access records or accessibility features.

While the pandemic may delay the company’s calendar, Apple is expected to be on track to release the next version of macOS in June. The company has already stated that its annual developer conference, WWDC, will be an entirely online event this year. It is slated to start in June, although Apple has yet to set a specific date. Apple is still planning to host an online presentation to make announcements and preview the rest of its software.

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