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Ask TUAW: Apple pricing, which cat is which, and laptop batteries you can't replace

Welcome to Ask TUAW, your favorite weekly question-and-answer column. Now, we can never have too many questions, so please, go to the comments of this post and ask away. To get fabulous answers, we need your fabulous questions. You can also email your questions directly to ask [at] tuaw.com, or ping us on Twitter.

Now, off to the questions!

David asks:

Why doesn't Apple let me replace the battery myself in any of its current products?

The move to non-user-replaceable batteries across the product line has caused a lot of speculation and aggravation. Those with a more conspiratorial outlook may think it's because Apple wants to force you to buy the latest and greatest devices or purchase an expensive battery replacement through the Genius Bar.

We can't say for sure whether that's the case or not, but I don't think Apple is making big bucks off battery replacements on three-year-old iPods. When the unibody MacBook Pro was released, Apple made a big deal about the integrated battery, and as far as I can remember, it was the first notebook that Apple introduced that didn't have an easily removable battery.

The company claimed in a launch video that when it designed for a removable battery, there was "a lot of wasted space." Much of it is used by the battery compartment, removable doors and structure. By removing all of the excess stuff and integrating the battery inside the computer, Apple designers can increase the size of batteries by 30 percent. A larger battery means longer runtimes. Apple has taken its years of battery and engineering knowledge to make larger, thinner and longer-lasting batteries; Apple's latest creation, the new iPad 2, has a massive one.

Apple makes some of the most power-efficient, ultra-thin devices on the market. At least some of that is due to Apple's integrated batteries. If you want a user-replaceable battery, you're going to sacrifice battery life and make the structure of the device larger.

Now, there's a valid counterargument here based on the other user-serviceable parts in Apple's laptops: RAM and hard drives. Both of those are considered acceptable swapping targets for users to do on their own in the field, so why not the batteries?

Sensible debaters may disagree on the point, but we suspect that a user-replaceable battery doesn't meet Apple's threshold for necessity because there's no upgrade path, per se; the substitute battery will be exactly the same as the original, meaning it's considered a repair/replace instead of a user-initiated upgrade. Putting batteries in the same category as capacity-centric items like HDs and memory could even imply the possibility of a longer-life third-party part (which does exist for powering earlier generations of Apple laptops); that's something Apple definitely does not want inside the unibody models for heat and safety reasons.

Of course, even the user-upgradable RAM and HDs are gone in the latest crop of "next generation" notebooks: the MacBook Air.

Robert asked:

I have another question about the iPad. Do you think the iPad will ever see a price reduction from $499 to $299? I mean, if Verizon was able to pull it off and still profit from the sales then there is a chance Apple might do it as well.

Apple usually doesn't lower its prices by more than 20-30 percent, and that's over several years. Instead, it keeps prices relatively stable and increases features and specs. The original iPod was $399 ten years ago. The comparable iPod today, a 32 GB iPod touch, is $299. That's only a 25 percent discount; however, the iPod touch is considerably more powerful than entire computers were in 2001. (An 8GB iPod nano, which is also a valid comparison product to the original iPod, is only $149.)

So, is Apple coming out with a $299 iPad? Nah. Apple already has a product at that price point. It's the iPod touch. Apple has a device for every budget. Want to spend $49? iPod shuffle. $149? iPod nano. $229 - $399? iPod touch. $499-829? iPad. The 11" MacBook Air and white MacBook start at $999. Apple is going to do everything it can to avoid price overlap.

As far as Verizon goes, it isn't selling those iPads and making a profit, it's dumping stock of an old device to make room for the iPad 2, and getting some decent press at the same time. If you can find one, grab it. They won't be around for long.

Finally, Jaime wonders:

So, I've heard everyone talk about Snow Leopard and Lion and Leopard. How do I know which version I have? When I go to "About This Mac" it just says 10.6.7. Does my computer actually tell me anywhere which kitty I have?

The kitty names started out as code words for operating system releases. Apple has a long history of using codenames, some amusing, some confusing. Wikipedia has a huge list of Apple codenames, if you're interested. The first version of OS X, 10.0, was nicknamed Cheetah (the Public Beta of Mac OS X was actually named for a bear, "Kodiak"). If you want to know which kitty you have, compare your operating system to this list of cat names.

  • 10.0 - Cheetah
  • 10.1 - Puma
  • 10.2 - Jaguar
  • 10.3 - Panther
  • 10.4 - Tiger
  • 10.5 - Leopard
  • 10.6 - Snow Leopard
  • 10.7 - Lion

Apple didn't put the Cheetah or Puma names on the box for Mac OS X 10.0 or 10.1. The 10.2 box was the first one to use a codename (Jaguar in that case). Gizmodo has a nice gallery of all the Mac OS X boxes. Meow!

Thanks for the questions everyone, and remember: it's very difficult to have a Q&A column without Qs. So, put your questions in the comments of this post, or shoot us an email at ask [at] tuaw.com. Also, if you have anything to add to our answers, we love feedback and fresh ideas.

Seriously, we want questions! Now, have a great week!

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