12Jul 2016

yes, you guessed right: they both spell BAD news for your smartphone battery.

Pokemon Go, the app that catapulted over this past weekend to the #1 download spot for both iOS and Android apps simultaneously runs the cellular radio (3G, 4G, LTE) along with the GPS locator and the screen. No wonder users are reporting dead batteries after a couple of hours, and several are carrying power bricks as they roam the streets to recharge their dying batteries.

What about Twitter? They announced today a live streaming agreement with Bloomberg with a few others in the making. The battery-friendly 140-character message cedes its place to the power-hungry, battery-challenging video stream.

These lead me to this post and what the battery of the future ought to look like. I don’t mean in 2017. I mean in 2020, or even beyond. The answer lies in the forecast for mobile trends in the coming year. For that, we turn to the annual Ericsson Mobility Report, an excellent resource on mobile traffic and usage.

I can sum up the report’s findings into two important points:

  1. A lot more data consumption, and
  2. A lot, I mean a lot, more video on your smartphone,

Ericsson forecasts that monthly data traffic on your smartphone will grow from about 1.5 GB in 2015 to nearly 9 GB in 2021, or a whopping 35% annual growth. More data usage means more radio time and that does not help the battery.

mobiletraffic

Of that 9GB of data usage, video and social networking will make up about 65% or 6 GB per month. Teens are a driving force having doubled their TV/video weekly viewing hours on their smartphone in just 4 years; from just 3 hours a week in 2011 to 6 hours a week in 2015. If you have young adults in your household, you will know what I am talking about. Video streaming requires the screen, graphics processor and radios to be all on…not enough sleep time for this device to extend the battery life.

All of that boils down to a better battery. Better means more charge capacity (and more energy density). Better means a lot faster charging. And better means a lifespan for a battery that will not fail you after a few months of use.

So is that possible? Yes. But not without some clever designs.

For that discussion, let’s look at how smartphone batteries have evolved over the past few years. I have chosen here the Samsung Galaxy S smartphones for further examination. Since the introduction of the Galaxy S3 in 2012, we have seen the battery increase in capacity from 2,100 mAh to 3,000 mAh in the most recent Galaxy S7. That works out to an average increase of 18% per year. This is great but surely not enough to match the growing data needs in the next years and satiate their power hunger. Samsung and several other Android OEMs have been aggressive in pushing fast charging (Apple, where art thou?) The 2016 Galaxy S7 charges nearly twice as fast as its earlier sibling in 2013.  Can you charge faster, pleaaaaase!

 

GalaxyS

Now comes the killer challenge. With subsidies gone and having to fork out $600 or $700 for a S7 (or an equivalent iPhone or high-end smartphone), you, the user, are now keeping your device longer and opting to wait before upgrading. That spells trouble to the device maker. Here’s why.

You see, they are finding themselves in a position where they need to increase capacity, AND charge rate (faster charging), AND now, consumers are demanding more lifespan, or cycle life (the technical term for having your battery live for at least 2 or even 3 years). This is not even possible without clever battery management solutions, such as our adaptive charging software. Such solutions can extract a lot more performance from the battery, and enable more capacity, faster charging and more lifespan. The batteries in the Sony Xperia line are a living proof of what is possible.