Gear: November 2011 Archives


November 8, 2011

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.