Apple rarely apologizes when it messes up. But when it does, it’s usually followed by even more fervor and upset users.
Case in point: Apple finally admitted it did a poor job communicating to its customers about how and why it slowed down iPhones with older batteries.
And while most people will forgive the company and accept its two forthcoming solutions (a $29 battery replacement for applicable iPhones and a future software update that’ll better explain your device’s battery health), there’s an equal amount of people who are now slamming the company for not doing even more for its users, like designing iPhones with removable batteries.
Cute idea — but it’s a little short-sighted. It’s not that Apple can’t make an iPhone with a removable battery, but because it doesn’t make any sense to. Removable batteries had their time in the ’90s-00s.
There are other features that we prioritize over batteries that can be swapped out.
First, a little history lesson. Asking Apple to make an iPhone with a removable battery will never happen. I know…never say never… but I feel confident making this claim because Apple has never released an iPhone with a battery you could easily remove.
The battery’s always been sealed inside of the iPhone, and the only way to replace it has been to 1) bring it to Apple for servicing or 2) buy your own toolset and bust open the iPhone yourself (and void the warranty in the process).
Long before Steve Jobs hopped on stage at Macworld in January 2007 to introduce the first iPhone to the world, the company already decided on its strong stance against removable batteries.
It was a jarring design choice at the time because just about all phones came with removable batteries, but it ultimately proved to be the right one.
While many Android phones touted removable batteries as a feature that distinguished them from the iPhone, you need only look around at the current Android landscape to see how that turned out.
Can you name a single flagship Android phone with a removable battery? I can’t, and I review these things for a living. (To be fair, there are still phones that have removable batteries, but they’re usually budget ones or come from no-name brands.)
Samsung ditched removable batteries in its two flagship devices — the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note — in 2014. And LG, one of the last companies to give up on them, held out until 2016 with the G5.
Prioritizing other features
So why did these companies stop making phones with swappable batteries?
You already know the answer if you’re a phone junkie or a tech nerd. And no, the answer isn’t: They’re all just copying Apple.
Whenever you make a decision not to do something, you’re simultaneously making the decision to allow room for something else. Perhaps, something that couldn’t have been done because of the tradeoffs that prioritized one thing over another.
In the case of phones with removable batteries, phone makers made the deliberate decision to go with sealed batteries for a number of reasons. Here are just a few of them:
More premium design: Removable batteries are convenient, but they also greatly limit the design of a phone. Take a look at the Galaxy S5 and Note 4. Notice any similarities? They both have plastic backs that can easily be pried off to reveal the battery.
And that’s a good thing, except people wanted better materials. Though the Note 4 had a metal frame, the S5’s plastic body and Band-Aid-like rear caught major flak for being tone-deaf to the metal and glass trend that was emerging. Samsung switched to a glass and metal “sandwich” design the next year with the S6, and the company has seen major success from all its phones since then.
Metal and glass bodies simply do not mix well removable batteries. It’s possible to make one — the LG G5 was an example of this — but it’s going to be greatly compromised. Sealed batteries have enabled slimmer designs and the use of new, more luxurious materials that wouldn’t have been aesthetically possible if they had to account for a removable back battery.
Water-resistance: You want your phone to survive a drop in the pool or toilet? Repel rain? Good, then you want a phone with fewer openings and more internal sealing that’ll protect its computer bits from frying.
Well, you can’t have that if you’ve got a cover that could easily pop off and cracks that could potentially allow water to seep in. And it’s not just water. Many phones are dust-resistant, too. Nobody wants tiny rocks or sand damaging the insides of their phone.
More room for other stuff: I’m not going to get into all the nerdy bits things about battery design, but a removable battery hogs up more physical space within the already tightly-packed confines of a modern phone.
Unlike a sealed battery, a removable battery requires an extra layer of protection to shield it from everyday impact. This adds extra thickness. On a phone where every millimeter counts and can be felt in the hand, there’s little competitive edge to go thicker when everyone is making their phones thinner.
Instead of wasting space with extra padding for the battery, designers and engineers can fit in other features such as better — possibly even stereo — speakers, or wireless charging, or better gaskets for weather-resistance, or a fingerprint sensor on the back.
Weird-shaped batteries: Removable batteries are also limited to essentially being rectangles or squares for easy installation and removal. And if you know anything about battery design, you’d know that new phone batteries are built to squeeze more power with unconventional designs.
For example, the LG G2 used a “step battery” design that packed more battery into the curved corners, which would normally be wasted with a battery with straight edges. The iPhone X also uses an unique L-shaped battery made up of two battery cells.
Had these phones used a removable rectangle-shaped battery, they wouldn’t get the stellar battery life that they do in the same svelte designs. You’d have a phone that looks like something enclosed in an Otterbox. Basically, big, heavy, and ugly. And just eww. No thank you.
It’s time to move on
I understand the reasons for wanting a phone with a removable battery. I really do.
Removable batteries are more environmentally friendly because it’ll lead to less e-waste since you won’t feel compelled to upgrade to a new phone if your current one works just fine.
They’d make situations like the one Apple’s caught in a lot easier for users because a fresh battery could fix handle new software updates that an older battery couldn’t. And you could probably get one for a lot less from a third-party.
Removable batteries also make it easier to carry a spare for when you really need it. Like when you’re out late or don’t have time to wait for a charge.
But much like the death of the PS/2 port, floppy disk, headphone jack, etc., it’s time to move on. Removable batteries were practical — and limited by old designs and technology — when phones were as thick as a Snickers and weren’t as feature-packed as they are today.
In a perfect world, you’d be able to get an iPhone X with a removable battery. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Ours is filled with tradeoffs. And we’ve all already decided we value all of the aforementioned features more than a removable battery. If we didn’t, the iPhone would have died a quick death years ago.
So wish all you want. But it’s not going to happen. The future of phones will be even more integrated with even more custom parts and more sealed than they are now.