The Next Spec War Must Be Battery Life

May 2, 2013 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

Technology’s next great innovation must be battery life, or reap the consequences.

Robert Scoble made an interesting observation this week: “The battery life is a real problem… one six-minute video I did took 20 per cent off the battery”. The influential tech blogger was talking about his experience with Google Glass, the wearable form factor Google hopes will ultimately replace our phones, tablets and computers.

Not with battery life like that it won’t.

Low Battery

Of course Glass remains a prototype device, but the observation only further highlights that battery life has become the technology industry’s biggest dirty secret. Today’s latest and greatest smartphones are no better at getting us through a day on a single charge than smartphones a few years ago and cannot hold a candle to dumbphones 10 years ago. Tablet and laptop designs are 70 per cent filled by batteries and after a few years their performance diminishes dramatically.

The impact is seismic. Daily life is restricted to predictable pit stops and travelling involves packing a suitcase full of cables that make a mockery of the eye-catchingly thin devices they are powering. Forget megapixels, megahertz, CPU cores, screen sizes and apps, amps are where it’s at.

Solar, fuel cells and wireless charging

To this end technology has to step up and theoretically it is. Recent weeks have seen a number of breakthroughs which claim they can solve technology’s obsession of squeezing ever more power into ever thinner form factors.

_67068962_batterygxdThe most exciting comes from scientists at the University of Illinois. Researchers there claim to have developed ‘microbatteries’ with microscopic internal three-dimensional structures that make them 1,000x more capacious than existing lithium batteries. They are also powered by fast charging cathodes and anodes which lead researcher William King claims could reduce charge times to a few seconds.

Solar isn’t standing still either. Last year photovoltaic manufacturer Amonix became the first company to convert more than one third of incoming light energy into electricity – something which had proved a glass ceiling on solar for a decade. It hopes to go beyond 50 per cent efficiency in the next few years.

Fuel cells are also finally showing signs of life. In March researchers at the University of Calgary found a way to dump the expensive and toxic materials in fuel cell catalyzers and replace them with common metals. Meanwhile wireless power options are increasingly offered in flagship handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S4, Nokia Lumia 920 and Nexus 4. While wireless charge points have become a fairly common site in airports and are expanding into restaurants and coffee shops making it easier to top up batteries in our existing devices.

Format wars

But inevitably there are buts, lots of them… This is a sample. If you want to read about the problems facing future technologies and what manufacturers can you right now to fix it click here for the full editorial @ TrustedReviews

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