The Ongoing Battle to Power Mobile Devices

Carl Weinschenk
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2012's Hottest New Tablets

Clearly, one of the overriding issues facing the overlapping IT and telecommunications mobile ecosystems is the balance between new features and the ability of the devices' batteries to support them. It's an issue that is not paid enough attention to, but one that threatens to slow, if not derail, the explosion of mobile growth that is the biggest story of the past five years.


There are three main ways to confront the challenge: better management of new features, bigger batteries and replacing batteries with esoteric new energy sources. News and commentary touching on all three are on display in posts during the past week.


The new energy source category generally makes for more exciting copy. That is true in this case as well. Tom's Style reports that scientists at Concordia University are mimicking no less than photosynthesis itself. Indeed, it can be argued that they are improving upon it.


In nature, what the story describes as an enzyme converts sunlight into energy by converting one end of an enzyme to a negative charge. The existence of an enzyme with both polarities causes energy to be immediately released. The researchers, which include Associate Professor Lszl Klmn, used the same process. The twist is that they introduced another enzyme. Its job is to keep the energy from immediately being released. That energy can be stored, the story says, for several hours.


That certainly is esoteric. The more mundane area is the ongoing push and pull between the size of the device and battery life. The parameters of the debate is clearly demonstrated by this Wired piece. At issue is whether HTC's strategy of making its smartphones as thin as possible - at the expense of bumping up battery life - is prudent. The story references a recent J.D. Power and Associates study that suggested poor battery life is a big problem for users. Clearly, HTC has made the decision that a phone can never be too thin, even if it runs out of juice relatively quickly.

The topic also is at the center of speculation that the next iPhone will use "in-cell" display technology and a switch from a glass back to a metal plate to reduce the thickness of the device by almost a millimeter. GigaOm writer Kevin Tofel suggests that instead of actually making the device thinner, Apple should consider beefing up the battery:

It makes more sense for Apple to use the space savings not to make the next iPhone thinner, but instead to offer more room for the battery. A thicker battery in the same overall iPhone size would offset any additional power usage for an LTE radio in the next handset. Apple was able to slightly redesign its most recent iPad to create more room internally and much of that space, if not all of it, was used for a battery with 70 percent more capacity. As a result, the new iPad with LTE and the high-resolution Retina Display, which also uses more power, still offers about the same run time as prior models.

As with most things, the true solution to a problem is a combination of the candidate response. The third approach - after bigger batteries and replacement technologies - is more efficient management of features and functions. Arab News has a nice rundown. Among the suggestions: Avoid overly voracious apps and close those that are not in use, employ the standby mode whenever possible, discontinue use of the flash on the camera, limit email accounts, adjust the backlight and keep battery connections clean.

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