Service Battery Indicator in Mac OS X
Modern versions of Mac OS X have a feature for portable Macs that will report to you the condition of your battery, as shown through the battery menubar item. Usually charging messages are shown there, but there are two other messages you don’t really want to see in that menu though, and they are “Replace Now” and “Service Battery”.
Why do you see those service indicators from the OS X Battery menu? Well, basically if a battery is unable to hold a charge, you’ll get one of these messages in your battery status indicator menu. This applies to all Mac laptops, whether it’s a MacBook Pro with a detachable battery or a newer Retina MacBook or MacBook Air model with a built-in battery.
“Service Battery” Generally Means The Battery Likely Needs Replacing
Though I’ve personally never seen the “Replace Now” message, I have encountered the “Service Battery” alert message on multiple machines, and in almost every case the battery needed to be replaced with a new one. Of course, there are exceptions, and in one odd circumstance, the battery still worked fine but Mac OS X was reporting the error message anyway.
But Wait… SMC Reset May Help the Battery in Some Situations
In the exceptional case mentioned above, a Mac was displaying the “Service Battery” message despite the MacBook being able to operate fine off of the battery – OS X would display the message anyway, as if it wasn’t working at all – this was easy to test simply by unplugging the power cable and letting the Mac run as normal from it’s battery power. In this case, the Service Battery alert was cleared and everything went back to normal after the laptops SMC power management controller was reset. Thus, anytime your Mac has power management type issues it’s worth giving the SMC reset a shot, it might fix the problem, and it’s easy to do.
The Next Step: Getting a New Battery
If you tried the SMC reset to no avail and you think your battery is toast, or it’s just continuously being problematic, give Apple a call or stop into an Apple Store. Apple Support is able to run diagnostics on the battery to help determine if there are actual issues with the hardware, and they can easily determine if the hardware has failed or there is another problem. This is particularly helpful if the machine is reporting the “Service Battery” message, because if the battery is still under warranty they will replace it free of charge. There are even some situations where they will replace out of warranty batteries too, but it’s a case-by-case basis and it often relates to the total cycle count and age of the battery within the Mac. For those curious, you can check your batteries functionality with a free utility called CoconutBattery, which will retrieve cycle count and provide some extended battery details.