macOS 10.12.2 Removes Battery Life Time Remaining Estimates

13 December 2016

Apple:

Apple didn’t have a ton of public information about how the battery life estimations were calculated, but we’ve talked to those in the know to get the scoop on why they’ve decided to remove it entirely following the MacBook Pro battery life concerns.

Our understanding is the reason is due to how the latest low-power processors work in addition to relatively newly introduced iCloud syncing features in macOS Sierra. The inaccurate ‘time remaining’ predictions were unable to keep up with or provide accurate information for users on the newest machines.

My personal experience is that this estimate was always widely inaccurate on every MacBook I’ve owned. It would change erratically and jump from seven hours to three hours on a whim, based on whatever intensive task was just opened. Its removal doesn’t come as a hindrance, therefore, because I was never really basing my computer usage around what that readout said. Some Windows manufacturers have already removed battery time estimates from their PC laptops.

The new update makes the Mac mirror how iOS has always worked, you can only see a percentage of battery capacity remaining represented numerically or graphically in the menubar icon. You quickly learn what a percentage of battery is roughly equivalent too. If you see the percentage drop rapidly, you will intuit that you are doing battery-intensive tasks and can adjust accordingly. When it falls below about 30%, in your head you can make a decision about whether to keep using it, do light work, or hunt for a power adapter. In short, just one number is enough information to be useful.

Now, there is an open question as to whether Apple could have engineered a more accurate time remaining algorithm, instead of merely canning the whole feature. Apple seems to think that isn’t possible — due to new CPU architectures, iCloud background processes — but I’m sure they could have developed a superior calculation than the very naive estimate they had before if they set their minds to it. There’s an elegance to matching iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch though.

This is also ancillary to the underlying point about 2016 MacBook Pro battery life being subpar. My interpretation of everyone’s anecdotal accounts are that it is lower than the 2015 model — any regression is disappointing. Personally, I’ve observed 7-8 hours of casual use on one charge. I would have happily traded some slimness of the chassis for a bigger battery that would have yielded another hour or two of longevity.