Up until the early 2010s, it was normal for phones to have removable batteries. However, as the iPhone with its non-removable battery became more popular, more and more manufacturers followed suit.
Eventually, even laptop manufacturers stopped making removable battery devices. But why is this so? And is this a good thing for us consumers? Let’s investigate below.
Why Non-Removable Batteries Became Necessary
As consumers demanded more sophisticated smartphones, manufacturers had no choice but to make sacrifices to comply with the latest trends. That’s because these light and slim all-screen designs became sales hits, allowing companies to make more money for their investors.
Let’s look at some of the features smartphones now integrate which necessitated the non-removable battery.
Lighter and Slimmer Designs
Despite all the development in battery technology, batteries are still inherently dangerous. That’s because they store energy between cathode and anode electrodes, separated by a thin electrolyte.
If these electrodes somehow come into direct contact, it would cause a short circuit and generate a lot of heat. This condition, in turn, would create even more heat leading to a runaway thermal reaction and could result in the battery bursting into flames or exploding.
For this reason, a removable battery needs a hard plastic case to prevent accidental damage, especially when it’s not connected to a phone. This kind of case adds to the bulk and weight of a smartphone. So, when consumers wanted a slimmer, lighter design, one of the solutions engineers came up with was to install a permanent battery.
By ensuring you cannot remove the battery, engineers made the smartphone’s case and chassis serve as its protection instead.
Better Battery Technology
The introduction of lithium-ion and lithium-polymer batteries allowed smartphones to last longer on a single charge. So, despite the increased battery consumption of more powerful chips and better screens, the concurrent development of battery material and capacity allowed smartphones to last all day.
This increased capacity means users no longer need a spare battery to swap out in the middle of the day. Furthermore, advancements in charging technology mean batteries can now go from empty to full in less than an hour.
And for users who need to top up on the go, both smartphone and smartphone accessory makers offer power banks that will let you recharge your device, even when you’re away from the outlet. These devices range from small single-charge power banks to large, 20,000 mAh devices that could power your smartphone all week.
As smartphones became more expensive, with flagship devices reaching four-digit prices, consumers demanded that they last longer and have more robust protection. After all, if you’re paying a month’s salary for a phone, it should withstand everyday wear and tear, including protection against accidental drops in water.
That’s why smartphone makers hardened their devices by sealing the outer case. But when they sealed the phone, users lost access to replaceable batteries.
Besides, it’s challenging to create a thin and light device with a closed outer case. If you look at waterproof cameras, you’ll see that it has a thick battery door secured by thick rubber gaskets. If you apply the same solution to a smartphone, you can say goodbye to its small, pocketable form factor.
Another side effect of increasing phone prices is its increased desirability, especially among thieves. After all, these devices are highly-mobile, so they’re easy to steal and resell. Furthermore, smartphones now contain a lot of highly sensitive personal data, allowing bad actors to steal more than just your hardware, but even your financial information.
That’s why many smartphone makers now allow passive device tracking, even if you switch your phone off. This feature allows you to track your device and acts as a deterrent against smartphone theft.
However, removing the smartphone’s battery removes its power source, effectively killing its tracking capability. Keeping batteries sealed inside your phone’s case makes it nearly impossible to remove without equipment and expertise, thus allowing you to track it even when you’ve switched it off.
The Cons of Having a Non-Removable Battery
Despite all the advantages non-removable batteries bring us, we still lose some functionality and features with them. Here are a few.
No More Swaps
If you’re the outdoors type of person who spends days or weeks out in the wild or a frequent flyer who spends days flying between countries, that means you’ll have limited access to charging outlets.
If you have a phone with a replaceable battery, you would probably bring around an extra spare battery or two for your device. But now that batteries are essentially permanent parts of your phone, you’ll have to bring around a power bank.
While power banks provide backup power for your devices, they take time to juice up your phone, especially if they’re not the newest models. Even if you have the latest fast charging power bank and smartphone, you still have to wait about 30 minutes to an hour to get your phone fully charged.
If you have a replaceable battery, swapping out the empty battery with a fully-charged one will take a minute at most. Furthermore, even smaller mid-sized power banks are way bulkier than slim spare batteries, adding more weight and consuming more space in your bag.
Despite the advancements in battery technology, there’s still a chance that your smartphone’s battery can bloat. When this happens, you have to replace it as soon as possible, as the battery’s safety is already compromised.
With a replaceable battery, removing the old bloated battery and installing a new one is a simple process. But since most smartphones have a permanent battery, you now have to bring your device to an authorized service center to replace it.
Furthermore, when a permanent battery bloats, it can also damage your phone’s external casing and chassis. When a bloated battery forces the case to crack open, it can damage the screws and glue holding it together and remove any ingress protection your phone had.
Bad for Right-to-Repair
One of the biggest issues in the tech world today is right-to-repair. And while permanent batteries give us sleek, modern devices, it doesn’t do well for this movement. That’s because permanent batteries make it harder for third-party repair shops to fix broken phones, especially when the manufacturer uses glue and adhesives to permanently bond the battery to the phone’s chassis.
A removable battery is simply easier to repair. Unless smartphone manufacturers develop ways to make it easier to remove batteries without requiring heat to melt the adhesive or tweezers to pull it out, a permanent battery will remain challenging to repair.
Most Consumers Don’t Want Removable Batteries
While some complain publicly about the lack of removable batteries, the truth is most consumers are happy with the current arrangement. After all, smartphone makers don’t add or remove features just for the sake of it—these changes go through months, if not years, of study and consultations.
Furthermore, it’s our wallets that do the talking. Despite losing features like the removable battery and the headphone jack, we still buy these devices. In fact, sales of these models have even increased. For many users, losing the removable battery is a small price to pay in exchange for features like thinner form factors and IP ratings.
So, is the loss of the removable good for users? For most of us, apparently, it is.
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