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It is a known fact that Li-Ion batteries will die and become useless much faster when kept fully charged 100% and always topped up 100% as compared to when they're only charged to, say, about 50% or 80%, and never topped up prior to going below 46% or some such (or at the very least, never below 96%, say). Which is why IBM/Lenovo ThinkPad series has a very visible and apparent option which lets the user specify the exact start/stop charges (they even have the option to automatically discharge the battery to 50%), and why the batteries in ThinkPads have an overwhelmingly much better lifespan in the stationary scenarios than the competitors.

Most laptops and mobile phones (with hotspots) by other manufacturers, however, don't have any such options, and, as a result, suffer premature battery failure when they are merely used as stationary devices. It would not be uncommon for such batteries to fail and even deform even prior to their advertised 300 cycles or whatnot, sometimes taking back with them the whole use of the device (mobile phones may not even turn on without a battery, even if USB power is present; and what do you do if the battery has bulged so much as to no longer fit?), or individual features of the device (battery bulging in a MacBook may cause the buttons on the trackpad to stop working; or if you remove it, there goes your CMOS RTC).

It would seem that companies like Apple, Dell, HTC etc, can't possibly not know these issues that have been known to IBM/Lenovo ThinkPad designers since a long time. Are there grounds for some sort of a class action case here, for negligence and/or fitness? Can we sue these manufacturers for failing to provide options for shutting the charger off at 50%, and for needlessly trickle-charging the batteries ad nauseam, resulting in premature failures, including loss of capacity and bulging?

Wouldn't this be an example of negligence to know about these things (and it is widely known that batteries are best stored at 50% charge, even apple.com/batteries/maximizing-performance/ has a memo), yet not doing anything in their products to accommodate stationary laptop and phone (w/ hotspot) usage?

Some laptops are even explicitly advertised as desktop replacements – wouldn't it be a fitness issue if the manufacturer fails to provide a 50% charge option for extended desktop use? (Wouldn't it also be fraud if they subsequently sell replacement batteries at a nice profit, after ensuring their circuitry will effectively ruin Li-Ion and Li-Polymer batteries through such trickle charging as above?)

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    Just to give you something to think about: If your laptop or phone displays "100% charged", that doesn't mean it is 100% charged. – gnasher729 Sep 7 '15 at 22:12
  • @gnasher729, true, but that also might be giving too much benefit of a doubt to the manufacturer; I know that my stationary Dell laptop's battery could only do 5 minutes without charge after being trickle-charged for a couple of years. Same for an Apple MacBook. Same for a HTC myTouch 4G phone after just a couple of months! – cnst Sep 7 '15 at 22:19
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    It doesn't exactly "break", it performance degrade continuously, which is stated on the product manual. This is more "planned obsolence" than anything, which the French and EU are still mulling about. In non-oligopoly market like laptops & smartphones, consumers can just choose products with this battery trick. However, skimming the forum for this feature Lenovo/Vaio also result in user not understanding the feature and thought their battery is broken. Other vendors most likely just think the feature doesn't worth the design, testing and additional support call. – Martheen Sep 8 '15 at 5:24
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    @cnst: I don't know about Dell, but for a MacBook being connected to a charger 24/7 for years is against the manufacturer's recommendation - the recommendation is to use the batteries up to complete discharge once a month. And "a couple of years" isn't just outside warranty, it is for example outside what is covered by your statutory rights according to much stricter EU consumer protection law. So if the manufacturer did something wrong, you would still not win. – gnasher729 Sep 8 '15 at 21:39
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    @gnasher729, in fact, I did have loss of data in my MacBook; it wouldn't turn off cleanly when you run it from battery without the mains power (the battery would run so low so suddenly that it would simply stop working, without saving anything) – cnst Jul 29 '16 at 23:14
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Negligence

Liability for negligence relies on the existence of a duty to do something (or to not do something). The plaintiff must suffer some injury as a result of a breach of that duty. Damages will be awarded to remedy that injury.

Does Apple have a duty to provide software and hardware functionality to maximise the life of the batteries included with their products?

Products come in a variety of qualities and standards. Courts will impose some standards (e.g. ginger beer should not have dead snails in it: Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] UKHL 100), but there is no duty to ensure that ever product implements the state of the art.

One of the factors taken into account by a court in determining the existence of a duty to prevent injury is the cost of taking steps to prevent that injury. Adding additional features to a product would increase its cost. Given that the product is sold for a particular price which takes into account its features, is it reasonable to impose a duty on the manufacturer to include additional features, not bargained for, in the product?

A court is unlikely to find that Apple is under a duty to include all possible battery-preserving features in its phone, thereby prohibiting the sale of phones at a particular price point.

Determining a negligence case requires the court to create social policy by drawing lines between, say, failing to put a fence at the edge of a cliff and digging the ground out from under someone near a cliffface. Is a failure to implement battery-maximising features the same as crippling a battery? Given that the starting point, historically, is a battery that is naively used, and 50% charge (etc) is an innovation that was added later, a court is unlikely to hold that Apple is somehow 'crippling' their batteries by not including batter-maximising features.

Consumer guarantees (fitness for purpose)

Some jurisdictions have consumer protection laws which include what the Australian legislation calls 'consumer guarantees', which are rules that a person supplying goods or services to a consumer must comply with. One such guarantee is fitness for purpose.

What is the purpose of a laptop? Is a laptop totally useless if its battery will stop working at some point?

At one end, a laptop with a battery that never works does not serve the purpose of a laptop. At the other extreme, a laptop with a battery that dies after 100 years would nonetheless serve most people's purposes.

How long must the battery last? How long is a piece of string?

Consumer guarantee legislation will sometimes specify factors for determining how long the piece of string is. These factors include price and any statements made by the consumer to the supplier about what they intend to use the product for.

Apple laptops are expensive but that is because they have a divinely-inspired aesthetic. After accounting for the divinely-inspired aesthetic, it is not surprising that there is no money left for battery-maximising features.

A court is unlikely to conclude that the purpose of an Apple laptop requires the battery to last for the same period as a Thinkpad.

To put it another way, the rule about fitness for purpose is about fitness for purpose. There is no rule that any product must be state of the art.

Fraud

If Apple said 'This battery will last for 300 cycles' and they knew that the battery would not, then that might be fraud. If, however, Apple said 'this battery might last for 300 cycles' or 'in lab tests, similar batteries lasted for an average of 300 cycles' or didn't say anything at all, then there is no fraud.

Knowing that something will cost someone money is not fraud.

  • "Divinely-inspired"? – JAB Feb 6 '18 at 18:50

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