The iPad hasn't even shipped yet, but the discovery by AppleInsider of a battery-replacement FAQ entry covering the iPad has led to a spate of articles about the topic. Instead of replacing the battery in an iPad which can't hold a sufficient charge, Apple wants you to replace the entire iPad with a new unit - potentially a refurbished, previously owned model.
But the stories imply that any weakness in the battery is your problem. You pay $105.95 for the swap ($99 for the hardware and $6.95 to cover shipping in both directions; tax is extra where required). This New York Times blog entry, for instance, doesn't mention an important factor: included and extended warranty coverage.
Adding to the confusion is language found in the basic iPad warranty, which you can download as a PDF, included with its purchase price. That warranty states:
This warranty does not apply: (a) to consumable parts, such as batteries, or protective coatings designed to diminish over time unless failure has occurred due to a defect in materials or workmanship...
That contrasts with the language in the AppleCare Protection Plan's contract, which is a bit difficult to find. Purchasing an AppleCare contract for $99 extends the one-year hardware coverage included with the iPad to two years and provides more explicit language. (It also increases the 90 days of telephone support that's free with an iPad purchase to a full 2 years.)
If you visit the online Apple Store, click through to pre-order an iPad, and then expand the AppleCare section's Learn More link, you see the following linked as a footnote to the Apple Hardware Coverage list:
Service coverage is available for battery depletion of 50 percent or more from the original specification.
Similar text is found in the actual AppleCare Terms and Conditions PDF:
Apple will, at its option, repair or replace the affected Covered Equipment, if (i) during the Repair Coverage Period there is a defect in the Covered Equipment's materials or workmanship or, (ii) during the Coverage Period, the capacity of the Covered Equipment's battery to hold an electrical charge has depleted fifty (50%) percent or more from its original specification, (after being fully charged and the Covered Equipment playing audio or video with all settings reset).
Now, could all this be interpreted to mean that, within one year of purchase with a regular warranty, a battery that fails to hold 50 percent of its original charge would still be considered to be functioning properly? That's hard to imagine, and we've already seen that Apple is ready to replace poorly charging iPhone and iPod touch batteries within the regular warranty period.
The AppleCare offer seems to go beyond normal malfunction though, and provide for replacement when a battery doesn't hold up to heavy use within 2 years.
Apple PR hasn't yet shed any light on what the warranty covers in response to our request for clarification. However, it doesn't seem likely, given the statements about defects and the fact that individual U.S. states enforce warranty conditions, that Apple would try to be cute about this. The firm went through enough battery lawsuits, negative publicity, settlements, and extended-repair programs with iPods and MacBooks, I would think.
Friend-of-TidBITS Jeff Porten writes over at Macworld that he estimates 400 to 500 recharge cycles before an iPad battery starts to show degradation based on information provided by Apple - about three years of significant use.
That degraded level might start to be noticeable when the iPad holds just 80 to 90 percent. It could be years more before the iPad gets to the warranty-supported 50 percent level, at which point you would be well out of even AppleCare coverage.
At that point, $105.95 (if that's still the charge) to refresh the iPad's utility may not seem like a horrible price to pay, although there's no question that Apple would prefer that you buy a new iPad, which would likely offer worthwhile new features as well.
As with the iPhone, I suspect that most problems with the sealed battery will occur well within the first year of use. The fears surrounding non-user-swappable batteries appear to have far exceeded the reality of problems.