Friday Night Fights: Should The iPhone Allow You To Easily Swap Batteries? [Feature]

Laaaaaaaaaaadies and Gentlemen, welcome to Friday Night Fights, a new series of weekly deathmatches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?

After this week’s topic, someone’s going to be spitting teeth. Our question: Should The iPhone Allow You To Easily Swap In And Out Batteries? A lot of Android phones let you swap in and out batteries if you’re low on power, but Apple’s never done so. Is this just another example of Apple hardware oppression, or do they have a good reason?

In one corner, we have the 900 pound gorilla, Cult of Mac; in the opposite corner, wearing the green trunks, we have the plucky upstart, Cult of Android!

Place your bets, gentlemen! This is going be a bloody one.

Vincent Messina, Cult of Android

While not every Android device features a removable battery, the majority of them do, and so we’re going to take a look at which is better: having an irremovable battery such as the iPhone or having a removable battery as in the majority of Android devices. I believe the advantages of having a removable battery far outweigh any you get from keeping the battery locked up and I hope to prove it to you in tonight’s Friday Night Fights.

Ahh, the battery, the life line of our precious tech devices. Without a constant power supply, all of our advances in mobile technology are useless and become nothing more than shiny paperweights. We’re always trying to get the most out of our batteries, whether it’s battery saving apps (which use the battery) or simply shutting down phone features when not in use. We never want to be without power and that’s why we have our superhero utility belt full of usb chargers, car chargers, wall chargers, power packs, etc. I like to also think of spare batteries as a tool in which to stay powered up, and that’s why it is important for a device to have the ability to swap batteries.

Having a removable battery benefits the power user the most, but also benefits any casual user who enjoys taking their device outdoors and away from a power supply. For a power user, any additional power source is a good one, and having the option to swap batteries is a life saver when faced with situations where having constant power is a necessity. You can’t always guarantee an open power source to plug into and having a spare can be a life saver. Not only are spare batteries great for emergencies but if your device has a removable battery, chances are there are manufacturers out there that sell larger batteries than can be used as a primary. When you have a device that doesn’t allow for you to remove the battery, you’re stuck with whatever size battery is in there and that’s it.

A recent example comes to light in this whole removable battery debate and that’s the one of the Motorola DROID RAZR on Verizon. Motorola decided to manufacture a top of the line device for Verizon that featured an irremovable battery. Inside they equipped it with a 1780mAh battery to not only handle the strains of video, gaming, multitasking, etc. but of the power consuming beast that is LTE. Well, we all saw how that worked out. Customers were quickly complaining about battery life, and had Motorola designed the RAZR to have a removable battery, they could have simply sold an extended battery to those looking for more power. Instead, they had to manufacture an entirely new device, insert a larger battery, and call it the DROID RAZR MAXX.

Not only does having a removable battery help in the quest for constant power, but it also helps a user do his own tech support without having to bring his device into a store for an issue a simple battery pull may fix. Yes, that point may be moot due to other ways of resetting your device, but the fact remains that sometimes an issue you’re having with your device is simply due to the battery. Maybe the battery won’t take a charge any longer, who knows, but if you had your friend near you (or a spare battery), you could swap the battery for a quick test and voila, you may just need a new battery. You didn’t have to drive to a store, you didn’t have to call support or create a ticket, you simply had to replace the battery. Batteries don’t last forever, and having the ability to just purchase a new one and swap it out yourself is a convenience everyone should have.

We can always use more power, and no matter what battery an OEM puts into your device, for some — it’s just not enough. In the famous words of Tim “the tool man” Taylor — “More Power!”

John Brownlee, Cult of Mac

Back before I had my iPhone, I had an LG Optimus V for a little while, less for any love of the phone than the fact that Virgin Mobile’s plans are extremely attractive. The phone was a piece of junk, a constant annoyance — ask my girlfriend, who inherited the damn thing — but one thing I did like about it was that I was able to pick up a couple of other batteries and slap them in when the Optimus ran out of juice, which it did all the damn time. So I’m not totally without sympathy for the notion that smartphones should have swappable batteries.

That said, there’s a reason the iPhone doesn’t have a swappable battery. Swappable batteries are an inelegant solution to the problem of charging your phone, and compromise both the design and build quality of a device. These are all important considerations.

When I had my Optimus, charging up the spare batteries was a nightmare. I had to slap them into a universal wall charger, line up the positive and negative battery posts and wait for them to charge. There was no way to tell how much charge they had left, or which one was charged and which one wasn’t. And when I needed to replace a battery, I had to essentially turn off my phone entirely and then take it apart.

Compare this to the many juice packs I have for my iPhone. These battery chargers simply connect to my device through the 30-Pin Dock Connector. I don’t have to turn off my iPhone, or take it apart. They charge through USB or a wall socket, and all have indicators to show how much juice they have left. Heck, I even have a couple battery chargers that are actually built into iPhone cases, and can extend the battery life by 150% of more.

Sure, I know Apple didn’t make these charging solutions. I also know that similar charging solutions exist on Android. But that’s the whole point: if these more elegant solutions work on any smartphone and are so much less of a hassle than keeping a bunch of spare batteries in your pocket, then why bother with swappable batteries anyway?

Which brings me to the compromises in design and build quality that swappable batteries cause. If the iPhone, for example, allowed for swappable batteries, the device would be much less solidly constructed. It would need a battery cover, which would not only affect the aesthetics of the device (say goodbye to the iPhone 4’s iconic Gorilla Glass casing) but also making it more susceptible to damage from falls. Think about it: drop an iPhone and if it doesn’t land in a puddle, the worst thing that happens is the glass gets cracked. But if you drop a phone with a swappable battery, the first thing that usually happens is the battery cover pops open, exposing the inside electronics of the device to damage.

So surprise! I’m ultimately with Apple here. Swappable batteries are just a less elegant solution than an external battery pack that attaches to your device, and totally not worth the heightened increase of damage that come from giving easy access to the sensitive, easily-broken electronics inside a smartphone. A phone isn’t a remote control, it’s an expensive computer in your pocket. You don’t need to change the batteries: there are far better ways to charge a smartphone. And to design one.

(One last note: I’m not against user replaceable batteries at all. If your phone battery charges, I believe a user should be able to go in and replace it himself with little trouble or expense. You can actually do this on an iPhone 4S. The difference is, you need a screwdriver, meaning it’s a procedure for phones that can no longer hold a charge only, and not to be frivolously done. Best of both worlds!)