Updated If you've got any money left over from your purchase of AirPods Max, you might want to save it. Battery replacements won't come cheap, with Apple charging £309 in the UK – or roughly 56 per cent of the original headphones.
This is more than three times the cost of obtaining a battery service in the US, where an out-of-warranty repair will set you back $79. It's even more expensive than in Australia, where consumers typically pay more for kit than Brits or Americans. A replacement battery service down under will set you back A$119, or £66 at the current exchange rate.
Apple will gladly sell AirPods Max customers an extended two-year AppleCare warranty, which covers battery replacements. It has also said it will replace batteries that are proven to be faulty as the result of a manufacturing defect, much like it did with the butterfly keyboard.
It's not clear why Apple is charging UK punters disproportionately more than those elsewhere. We've asked Apple, and will update this post if we hear back.
Still, every lithium battery has a finite lifespan. With prolonged use, these will eventually degrade, holding ever-decreasing levels of charge. As they start to fail, they'll begin to expand – a phenomenon dubbed "spicy pillows" – which can damage or dislodge other internal components.
The only solution is to replace the battery. For many headphone models, this is something that can be accomplished by a skilled hand equipped with the right tools. For popular high-end headphones from the likes of Sony and Bose, you can find third-party manufacturers flogging replacement cells, as well as step-by-step repair guides on YouTube and iFixit.
It's plausible the £309 cost of obtaining a replacement battery for the AirPods Max will deter some from repairing their broken headphones. They'll sit in a drawer, and eventually end up bagged and trashed, where they'll languish in a landfill for millennia. Repairs done by the user themselves, or by a third party, will almost certainly prove cheaper. But will they be possible?
Apple has a poor track record here. The popular wireless earbud-style AirPods are impossible to repair. Even if you manage to source a replacement battery cell, once they've been disassembled, there's no way you can reassemble them.
This has also been true for its laptop line. Between 2012 and 2015, it used an incredibly strong adhesive to affix the battery to the top-case of the MacBook Pro Retina. It took iFixit almost five years to identify a non-toxic solvent capable of dissolving the glue without damaging other components.
Future teardowns may prove the AirPods Max to be straightforward to self-service, but don't hold your breath. This is Apple, after all.
Battery longevity isn't the only thing that will determine the useful lifespan of the AirPods Max. Remember: they're tied to Apple's wider device ecosystem, and will only work on specific versions of macOS, iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS. Apple will eventually discontinue software support for these cans, preventing them from being used on newer devices.
Headphones that use generic Bluetooth and 3.5mm wired connections can be used for as long as they work. These are different: proprietary.
Apple hasn't said how long they intend to support the AirPods Max. Admittedly, this won't be a problem for some. At its heart, Apple is a luxury goods manufacturer. There are those who will buy these without concern for cost nor longevity.
But if you're eyeing these up as a multi-year investment, it might be prudent to wait to see what Apple says, and how it fares when under the microscope lens of a right-to-repair activist. ®
Updated to add at 14:04 on 10 December 2020
Apple tweaked its UK website overnight to show the AirPods Max battery replacement priced at £75. We still don't know if it was a typo or a hasty amendment after our article, as no one at Apple has put themselves out responding to inquiries and – as The Reg's news tip inbox attests – an army of fanbois is clearly happy to do their PR for them by arguing it was a typo. Nice work if you can get it.