HyperMac's external battery workaround

| Comments (1) | Gear Outstanding!
The MacBook (Air, Pro, etc.) are great computers, but the sealed battery is a real limitation if you want to travel with it. My Air gets about 5-6 hours of life if I'm careful, which is fine for a transcontinental flight, but not a transatlantic one. The fix, of course, is to buy a HyperMac external battery, which plugs into the laptop at the only real point of access, the magsafe connector. Unfortunately, in 2010 Apple sued HyperMac for patent infringement and HyperMac stopped selling the relevant cable (which, as I understand it, was actually a modified version of an official Apple cable). Without the cable, of course, the battery is pretty useless.

I'm lucky enough to have one of the pre-lawsuit battery/cable combinations but recently a friend wanted one, so I looked again. It seems that HyperMac is back in business, but they've resorted to a do-it-yourself kind of ethos. Basically, you have two choices:

  1. HyperMac will sell you a connector that impersonates a 12V air/auto power connector. You then buy the Apple air/auto to MagSafe adaptor and plug it into your Mac.
  2. They sell you a pair of jacks that you splice into the cable for a legitimate Apple power supply. The way that this works is you take a standard Apple power supply and cut the magsafe half of the cable in two. You strip the wires and attach them to the jack; repeat for the other side.

Without taking a position on the merits of Apple's legal claims, this seems like a pretty lame state of affairs. First, the original HyperMac design was better because you could charge your battery at the same time as you powered your Mac with it. This works with the air/auto version but not with the DIY jack version. Second, while it's not exactly microsurgery to splice the cables, it's still something you could mess up.

Moreover, it's not like Apple has some super-expensive power expansion solution that HyperMac is competing with and the patent is protecting them from. Rather, they're just making life harder for people who want to use Apple's products in situations which are just more extreme versions of the situations which motivated the device having a battery in the first place. I just don't see how this makes anyone's life better.


I could see how and lawyer could think this is their job. Here's a chain of reasoning that, even if over-cautious, isn't crazy:

1) We (Apple) have patents for a variety of reasons, one of which is to inhibit competition in the market for our products.
2) This inhibition is enhanced by vigilance regarding infringement. Making market participants fearful of provoking our action is good for us.
3) We don't make an external battery, but we might. And we certainly make power supply gizmos of several sorts, external batteries may substitute for these.
4) Even if we don't care about external batteries, it isn't worth the trouble to license our patents to small-fry. And we can't just unilaterally license Hypermac (risks future claims of restraint-of-trade if we don't offer similar terms to others).

I imagine situations like this happen all the time.

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