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Aug 04, 2020
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MacBook owners have been expressing concerns online over the intermittent lack of battery charging on their MacOS powered laptops. Apple has confirmed the details of the problem, and it is a design failure in the user interface.

MacBooks have been showing ‘not charging’ even though the power adaptor is plugged in and the internal battery is not fully charged. This rightly leads them to question what is going on and what has broken on their laptop?

Turns out that nothing is broken, everything electrical is working as intended. Apple has posted a new support document on the issue, explaining that the change in charging status is party of the updated Battery Health Management software in MacOS Catalina.

When battery health management is turned on, you might occasionally see ”Not Charging” in the battery status menu of your Mac, and your battery's maximum charge level might be lowered temporarily. This is normal, and it's how battery health management optimizes charging. Your Mac resumes charging to 100 percent depending on your usage.”

This approach to charging is designed to extend the life of your MacBook’s battery. It won’t make it last forever, but it will give you more time with your first battery before you have to approach Apple for a replacement.

What I find disappointing is what lies behind this problem. Apple is famed for focusing on the small details; getting pixels in the right position, rehearsing the unboxing experience, ensuring a consistent look, and guiding users to the right feature or function through the UI.

The failure here is not a failure of the battery, or the charging circuitry, it is a failing of Apple’s user interface.

Subsequent paragraphs in the support document make it clear why there is confusion around charging under the new system:

"You might also see “Not Charging" when your Mac isn't getting enough power to charge the battery, such as when it's not using the correct power adapter and , or it's plugged into a power source that isn't delivering enough power."

In essence you can get the message “not charging” while you are charging, “not charging” while you are not charging, and “not charging” when you have an issue with the charging hardware. Three different scenarios, all of which offer important feedback to the user, and one single text string.

Given the prominence that the Battery Health software has received from Apple, I’m surprised that this slipped through the attention to detail net. Still, there’s a really easy fix for this. I hope Apple decides on some different phrases for two of those statuses. “There is a charging problem” and “Charging Paused” would be good starting points.
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