If the recent spate of smartphone rumors and announcements are any indicator, we’re about to see a new breed of ultra powerful portable devices. This was in many ways inevitable. Computing has more or less followed along with Moore’s Law, meaning we’re able to fit many more transistors on a chip than we were a few years ago. But with that increased power comes increased burdens. In this case, it’s our poor batteries that suffer as we increase the power of smartphones.
It’s not only the computing power that is eating at our batteries. Cellular networks also eat at them. It wasn’t too long ago that people actually complained about 3G networks, because they ate battery much faster than EDGE networks did. It seems silly in hindsight, but it is a real concern. By many accounts, 4G LTE networks do eat into battery life at a considerably greater rate than 3G networks. This all points to the necessity of improved battery life.
There are some things that just will not change. It’s not at all likely that the basic structure of our batteries will change. Will we eventually move on from our current lithium-ion batteries? Sure. We did evolve away from the nickel-cadmium batteries that powered cell phones a decade ago. But we will continue to charge our phones using DC power, and we will in all likelihood continue charging them with wires. That is to say, there are only limited ways that battery life can grow in the current environment.
For its part, Samsung is making strides in the battery department. At CES they discussed releasing devices with greater battery life, which can last a full day with moderately heavy use. That’s a great goal, but unfortunately they’re going to have to rob Peter to pay Paul. That is, they’re going to release devices with physically larger batteries. For years smartphones have gotten thinner and thinner. It is, in some ways, a shame to see that trend reverse. But in this case we have to ask ourselves if it’s worth the trade-off.
This should send a clear signal to smartphone manufacturers everywhere. We’ve seen them make great strides on the consumer technology end. Our phones are faster than ever, and capable of doing more. They can take the places of multiple gadgets in our lives. But in order for them to become further ingrained, they simply need to last longer. That means better battery life by any means — preferably without creating larger devices. The development of battery power technology will play a large part in the future of smartphone usage.
The burden shouldn’t lie just with the manufacturers, though. Platform developers have opportunities to extend battery life as well. For an example of both, we can look to the iPhone and Android smartphones. The iPhone battery simply lasts longer than similar Android smartphones. This is partly because the iPhone has a hard battery connection — that is, it’s permanently embedded in the device and does not use the same connectors as the removable batteries of Android devices. But software does play a role. iOS is just a bit friendlier to batteries. As Google further develops the Android OS, they should look for ways where they can cut down on power consumption.
There is no doubt that these developments will come along. They’re simply too essential to the future of smartphone adoption. Samsung has gotten everything off on the right foot, and they’re actually making a sacrifice in form to get the function right. But that’s not the long-term solution. In order to continue growing in the long run, we need both developers and manufacturers to leverage whatever technology they can to create better battery life. Without that, smartphones will realize a growth ceiling in the not so distant future.
==== About the Author ====
Joe Pawlikowski is the editor of Prepaid Reviews.