The Liberating 2013 MacBook Air

by Ben Bajarin   |   June 30th, 2013

A few years back I declared the 13″ MacBook Air the perfect notebook. With the recently released 2013 refresh, Apple just made the perfect notebook even better. They did it with one feature that has taken notebook computers to a new level–true all-day battery life.

Cable Free

There is something wonderfully liberating about not needing to worry about plugging your laptop in. Transformative is another word I’ve heard from those I’ve talked with who also have one of the new Airs. The experience actually reminds me quite a bit like the first time I got a hybrid car. Being able to drive longer and farther without having to think or plan trips around gas stations was wonderfully liberating. This is the same feeling I have now using the new MacBook Air.

It seems like a small thing, but not having to worry about, or even really think about where I sit in meetings, at airports, in airplanes, etc., is wonderfully freeing. No longer do I need to plan my day around a power outlet.

A Typical Day

Often times what will come up in this discussion is what a typical computing day looks like for me. I don’t have a desk job so I am highly mobile on a regular basis. More often than not I am on the road heading to other companies offices for meetings. At these meetings I am usually note taking, or sharing a presentation with our market insights. Obviously, as I go from place to place my notebook is not open and just in sleep mode.

Even when I am stationary or at a desk, I’m mostly checking email, Twitter, working on a column or report, or just browsing the web. Because I am bouncing around Silicon Valley so often, I usually do a lot of these tasks from Starbucks or some other location where I can use Wi-Fi. Doing my normal workflow at home or on the go, I am charging my new MacBook Air about every two days. As an aside point, I started this column after a full nights charge. After working for the past 20 min, I just looked at the estimated time remaining and it says 13 hrs and 08 min.

A Story Tells it All

My first true all day computing test happened this last week when I attended Microsoft’s build conference. The press and media were let into the keynote at 8:30 am, which is about the time I sat down and opened my notebook. They had power outlets available at the tables but I didn’t plug in since I was working on a full charge from the night before.1 I used the machine non-stop until the keynote ended around 10:45 am when I shut my notebook and walked to the press room to write.

I sat down and opened my Air in the press room a little after 11:00 am.2 Out of habit, I instantly checked how much time I had left on battery power. The battery status indicator estimated I still had 9 hrs 57 min left on battery power. I remained working in the press room until 2:00 pm when I left to meet up with some friends and check out the exhibits.

I got back into the press room to reply to emails and do more writing around 4pm and again checked my battery status out of habit. It estimated I had 6 hrs 23 min remaining. I worked there until 5:45 pm until I moved to the Mariott down the street to work from the bar. I went there to kill time before heading to the Microsoft party that night. Actually, if I’m being honest, I went there to get Pliny the Elder, the best beer (an IPA) in the world. When I got to the Mariott about 6pm I again checked my battery status. After working all day, I still had 5 hrs and 15 min estimated remaining. I worked there for an hour until I left for the event. I didn’t open the notebook the rest of the night. Never once during this day of fairly intensive use at a conference did I ever need to worry about plugging in. I also learned I don’t need to constantly check my battery status either any more.

The kind of battery life experiences I am having with this new 13″ MacBook Air are more iPad like than notebook like.

Compared to my old MacBook Air which I got two years ago, I am getting better than double battery life. The kind of battery life experiences I am having with this new 13″ MacBook Air3 are more iPad like than notebook like. 4

Mavericks Advantage

As I pointed out in my article on OS X Mavericks from Friday, and although it is only a hunch at this point, I have a theory that OS X Mavericks will bring even better battery life improvements to the already stellar MacBook Air.

I’ve talked to several folks who are running the OS X Mavericks developer preview on their 15″ rMBP and are seeing significant battery improvements one even said he was getting better than 10 hours.

I’m looking forward to quantifying this point. With what I know technically about what is happening under the hood with OS X Mavericks advanced technologies, it’s hard to believe that it will not add even better performance to any machine running it.

Non-Retina?

In an age of high definition TVs, PCs, smartphones and tablets, it may be hard to conceive getting a non-retina like display in a notebook. I have many true high-definition PCs to test including a Retina MacBook Pro. Although I love the screens on these devices, the battery life improvements are so important to me due to the nature of my mobility that it is well worth the trade-off for me.

Too Good to Be True?

I’ve told many about these experiences and more over the past week and most have a hard time believing it. I even thought it was too good to be true when I first heard the claims. But after a week and a half with the new MacBook Air I can testify that this notebook more than delivers on its battery life claims. You can also check out these interviews with some other new MacBook Air owners for their battery life testimonials as well.

10 years ago or so, I was one of the few in press rooms and meeting rooms with a Mac. Now I’m one of the few who doesn’t need to worry about where a power outlet is.

  1. I’m also noticing this new Air is charging faster, taking roughly two hours to go from nearly empty to fully charged []
  2. When lunch is free in the press room you learn to get there to get in line early. []
  3. I bought the fully loaded 13″ MacBook Air with the dual-core 1.7 ghz 4th generation Intel core and 512gb solid state drive with 8gb 1600 mhz DDR3 RAM. []
  4. I keep the screen brightness set to 50% and I do not have Power Nap or app updates set to install during sleep mode while on battery power. I also keep the keyboard backlight set to auto. Other than that nothing special going on. []

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • FalKirk

    Two things:

    First, I agree with your statement from an earlier article suggesting that battery life is the new measure of a mobile computing machine. We used to obsess over CPU speed and RAM and hard drive size, but all of those are now more than good enough. Battery life is the anchor that weighs down mobile computing.

    Second – and this goes against holy writ – I wish Apple would make a larger iPhone (not a bigger screen size, although that would be okay too) with better battery life. A small, light device is Apple’s signature, but I think they’d be better served selling a slightly larger phone with lots more battery life.

    • Rich

      I’ll bet consumers agree!

  • Rich

    Ben, I think your experience with the battery life in your 13″ MacBook Air is a perfect example of how Apple approaches creating products. I’m sure the designers at Apple sat down and after a little thought said “I’d love to be able to travel and work all day without having to worry about plugging in somewhere!” Other computer makers seem to be focused on factors that are irrelevant to the buyer, like pleasing investors or rushing to market to beat the competition. Those things are the manufacturer’s concern, not the consumer’s.

    Both Apple and Amazon have *the consumer experience* as their first priority and both are hugely successful. That is no coincidence. People don’t buy products because the manufacturer or seller is worried about their position in the market, or whether their investors are happy. A person buys a product when the maker is thinking about what’s good for *them*, the consumer. This seems so obvious that I don’t know why most manufacturers don’t appear to get it, but they don’t.

  • dr.no

    your dad says it will take PC OEM until mid-2014
    to catch up.

    That hardest metric to improve will be
    - 1000 cycles/5 years 80% battery charge
    - 3-5 life expectancy of typical laptop.

    Yet we still don’t know how long SSD lasts.

    • benbajarin

      This is a key point actually that we may not be particularly sure of until holiday when we see the new haswell machines launch from others. Samsung is touting a retina quality ultrabook on haswell that they say gets 12 hours for holiday. So we will have to see. But, I am certain there are performance advantages Apple will be able to accomplish due to their vertical nature and control of hardware and software. We will just have to wait to see how much of an advantage in this area it is..

      Laptops will likely push 4-5 yr ownership or longer so the degradation of Lithium ion is a good point but the SSD is less of an issue if what SanDisk and others tell me is correct about this and future nanometer processes they are on.

  • Alex Marek

    My only issue is now my battery life has DROPPED to 6 hrs a charge- I love this mac (it’s my first one) and it’s great for work. I can get through the majority of my work day and after an extensive test, the battery’s not holding out like it used to be.