Disposable Electronics?

When it comes to diapers, razors, and contact lenses, disposable is definitely the way to go. But disposable electronics? Great for Apple’s bottom line, maybe, but a worrisome trend that will eventually turn your new iPad loaded with all those electronic charts, logbooks, checklists and POH apps into a fancy paperweight.

A disposable product is one designed for cheapness and short-term convenience rather than long-term durability. Paper napkins are disposable. Toothbrushes are disposable. Electronic devices shouldn’t be.

But in the case of many Apple products, they kind of are because the company has stopped offering replacement batteries for most of the devices it sells. Once the battery lifespan is up, that’s it. You can’t replace it.

I got my first taste of this phenomenon with a two-year-old iPhone 3G a few months ago, when I noticed the battery seemed to be draining faster than normal. Finally it got to the point that I couldn’t leave the house without making sure I had a charger with me.

I considered buying an external battery pack from a third-party supplier, but in the end I decided to head down to my local Apple store and buy a new iPhone 3GS for $59. Or, rather, I bought a refurbished iPhone. That’s the deal Apple has made with consumers. Once your iPhone or iPad battery dies, you can buy a new battery and receive a refurbished device to go with it—ostensibly for free.

In the case of the iPad, Apple’s “battery replacement service” costs a hundred bucks. The procedure is to backup your old iPad including the installed apps, swap the original unit for a refurbished model and then load everything onto the new machine. Apple then usually takes your old iPad, refurbishes it, and sells it to the next guy.

So I suppose it’s unfair to call Apple’s products disposable. A better descriptor might be “communal.” In Steve Jobs’ world, we’re all supposed to be okay with sharing our high-priced electronics with people we’ve never met, and foregoing that little plastic panel on the back that lets us open up the device and put in a fresh battery.

I’m not mentioning all of this only because I think Apple’s battery replacement policy is lame (although it certainly is), but also as a warning that the juice in your iPad, over time, will degrade to the point that you might not be able to make it from your departure airport to your destination without the battery power meter falling to zero. Apple proclaims that the lithium polymer battery in your new iPad will hold a charge for up to 10 hours. What they neglect to tell you is that’s only true on Day One; that number starts dropping on Day Two.

Ever-shorter battery cycles should manifest themselves gradually. For instance, at some point you might discover that you're barely able to complete a day’s worth of flying on a single charge. A few months later, the battery might not stay charged in the time between fuel stops. Let’s just hope your iPad doesn’t blink off at the worst possible moment: on approach in actual IMC when you really need that instrument approach plate.

So what can you do to extend the lifespan of your iPad’s battery? First, don’t leave the device sitting in a hot car (or a hot airplane). Turns out nothing will degrade a rechargeable battery faster than prolonged heat exposure. You might also want to make sure you use your iPad for more than just flying. Apple recommends charging your iPad to 100% and running it down completely at least once per month. Finally, to help your iPad run longer between charges, check your settings. Turn the screen brightness down, turn Wi-Fi and 3G off when not in use, and consider whether you really need those push notifications and e-mail autocheck features.

And while you’re at it, maybe do a Google search on “external iPad batteries.”


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