Apple took no specific steps to improve MacBook Pro battery life with macOS Sierra 10.12.2

By , Dec 16, 2016

13 inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar iFixit teardown 004

The macOS Sierra 10.12.2 software update, released three days ago, removes your Mac battery’s time remaining indicator but owners of the new MacBook Pro won’t see any improvements to their notebook’s battery life as a result of the update.

As ArsTechnica noted, the company “told us repeatedly and emphatically that it had taken no specific steps to improve MacBook Pro battery life” with macOS Sierra 10.12.2.

Now, some people have reported seeing improved battery performance after installing the update on their MacBook Pro, but there’s a reasonable explanation for that.

Wait, does that mean that reports of new MacBook Pro owners seeing poor battery life of five hours or less are bogus? In a word, no. In a nutshell, users initially saw decreased battery performance because post-install processes put a major strain on the battery.

The Loop’s Jim Dalrymple was told the same thing by his own Apple sources.

According to Apple’s own data, the new MacBook Pro’s batteries are performing as intended (the firm rates the new MacBook Pro’s batteries at ten hours of web browsing and iTunes movie playback).

Like iOS, macOS typically performs resource-intensive tasks following a major software update. Some of those processes can run for hours, if not days, until they complete.

The battery is affected by things like initial Spotlight indexing, iCloud sync and the Photos app which performs detailed analysis of the user’s photos and videos to recognize faces, objects and scenes on them and populate the Memories tab with automatically created albums and slideshows.

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Battery may be sapped until facial recognition, Memories, image analysis and other initial first-run tasks in Photos have completed.

macOS also needs to sync your iCloud Drive, Photo Streams and iCloud Photo Library.

Because these and other processes can make for a lot of uploading, downloading and CPU usage, battery life in the first day or two may not necessarily be representative of normal battery life once everything has settled down, as Ars notes.

“This could also help to explain some of those reports that battery life has improved since the 10.12.2 update landed,” wrote the site. “It could be that the update’s installation coincided with the end of those first-time Spotlight and iCloud operations.”

That’s not saying that the new MacBook Pro’s battery is stronger than its predecessor. As Ars explains, 13 and 15-inch Pros come with a 34 percent and 24 percent reduction in battery capacity, respectively: the 13-incher went from 74.9 WHr to 49.2 WHr and its 15-inch counterpart fell from 99.5 WHr to 76 WHr.

As for Intel’s Skylake chips in the new Pros, they’re more power efficient but only when your Mac is idling and not running resource-heavy apps such as video editing, having lots of browser tabs open and so forth.

Screen Shot 2016-12-16 at 17.52.51
Skylake chips in new Pros use around the same amount of power as 2015’s Broadwell in previous-generation 13″ Pro and a little bit less than 2013’s Haswell in 15″ Pro.

Intel says Skylake chips are more power-efficient than their predecessors, but it seems that’s only really true when they’re under extremely light load. “The less idle processor time you have, the less Intel’s recent power optimizations can help you,” noted Ars.

Another problem lies in the fact that 15-inch Pros have power-hungry discrete GPUs which cannot be disabled to conserve power because the machines must be capable of driving two 5K screens at 60Hz at once. Because there’s no integrated-only GPU option, you’re unable to prioritize battery life over external display output.

As for Touch Bar’s impact on Pro’s battery, it’s relatively minor versus the rest of the system thanks to Apple’s power-efficient T1 chip. Plus, the Touch Bar screen uses power-saving OLED technology (versus the notebook’s LCD-based screen) and switches off when you’re not actively using the computer.

Other factors are at play here.

Some of the apps you use may be real battery hogs, for example, especially if they don’t take full advantage of your computer’s hardware and system APIs like anything Adobe, video players like VLC and media center apps like Plex and Kodi. These and many other third-party media players use the CPU, not the GPU, to render Mac-unfriendly video files like MKV, AVI and DIVX.

This is why Apple’s ten-hour battery life claim assumes browsing the web in Safari and playing movies in iTunes. Safari is optimized for low energy consumption while movies imported in iTunes are re-encoded in Apple-friendly H.264 or MP4 format which the GPU handles very efficiently via hardware acceleration.

MacBook Pro Touch Bar image 008

Ars wraps up the article by providing a few power-saving tips.

Use Safari over Chrome whenever possible as it takes advantage of macOS’s power-friendly technologies. You should reduce screen brightness and close any unused browser tabs and apps, especially items in the Mac’s menu bar and apps which frequently perform a background sync, like Dropbox, One Drive and Outlook.

Lastly, launch the Activity Monitor app within the Utilities folder inside your Applications folder to identify apps that may be using too much power.

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Energy tab in Activity Monitor can help identify battery hogs. Pro tip: you can check out your battery’s time remaining estimate in Activity Monitor.

An earlier version of Apple’s support document about Mac batteries stated that the battery’s time remaining indicator would update frequently and change depending on screen brightness and system workload.

The now-removed passage said that some users might see the time remaining “drop significantly” should macOS update the indicator while the user was opening a very large file or starting up an application.

“It’s important to remember it’s an estimate based on what your computer is doing at the specific time it updates,” read the now-removed part of Apple’s support document.

All mentions of the battery’s time remaining got removed from the document yesterday.

Mac notebooks with macOS Mavericks 10.9 or later now display the low battery warning when the battery has approximately ten minutes of power remaining versus earlier macOS versions, which report it at fifteen percent or less, reads the document.

Aside from a number of big fixes and performance improvements, macOS Sierra 10.12.2 did address graphical glitches that some customers complained about, as per Apple’s software engineering boss Craig Federighi.

Source: ArsTechnica

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  • malhal

    Just tried the 15″ in store and said 5 hours remaining in activity monitor. Then when I looked at an animated iMessage the discrete graphics came on (doesn’t ever go off until messages is quit) and time went down faster. I think they need to redesign graphics switching to turn back off when not needed or give an energy prefs to do the opposite of unchecking “use automatic graphics switching does” which locks it to discrete, mobile users want to lock it to integrated!

  • Rolf Bause

    But hey, it’s thinner tho – and that’s what counts at the end of the day! Get used to it, fanboys!

    • madmaxmedia

      The 2020 MacBook Pro is going to have 20-hour battery life if you’re doing nothing, but only 20 minutes if you’re doing anything CPU-intensive…

      • But it will only be 0,01 inches thick!!!!!11111oneone

  • OUsooner08

    Guess what my work Surface Pro 4 does the same crap. You can hover over the battery at any given time within a 10 minute period and get wildly different “time remaining” numbers.

    • boosook

      The problem is not only the unreliability of the indicator. The problem is simply that battery life is much shorter than the previous macbooks, because batteries are much smaller. Apple promised a miracle (same battery life with smaller batteries) that simply did not happen.

      • OUsooner08

        Except that’s not true, I’m getting 9-11 hours based on the criteria set in the battery testing standards Apple uses which is web browsing. Watching iTunes movies I got 12 hours on a charge.

        Apple didn’t promise “up to 10 hours of Photo Shop” or “up to 10 hours of gaming.”

  • Byambaa

    I am gonna sum up the entire thing from apple inside perspective:
    We have to show some changes in our new model!
    – Lets make it thinner.
    But the batteries have to get smaller then.
    – Remove the depressing battery indicator and say them, they should do nothing to longer the battery live or close as many programs as possible and at least dim the screen, who cares about iSheep’ eyes.
    – It may have a negative impact on our mac sales and profit!
    – Increase the price then. People won’t know about it at first.
    – Do we improve the battery life in coming updates?
    – Lets be really quiet and hold the 30 percent battery percentage’ peace we cut off.

    sorry for my bad english 😀

  • boosook

    Lol… The only step they could take is… Put in a bigger battery! Guys deal with it: the batteries in the new Mac books are underpowered. 35% smaller in the 13″ and 25% in the 15″ compared to previous generation. There’s no software update that could fix this. Apple chose to sacrifice everything (battery size, keyboard, ports) on the altar of the “slimmest Mac ever” mantra, and these are the results. These are not pro computers, not anymore. They’re just toys for rich guys who want to show they can afford them.