The problem with phones getting more powerful is that they aren’t getting more full of power.
Mobile technology has been moving pretty fast recently. New operating systems have risen up, more applications keep us connected to the web, processing power has tripled this year alone, and screen resolution has been increased dramatically. Almost every area of mobile phones has been enhanced in the past few years with one notable exception – the battery. All these improvements are being made yet the power for them still comes from the same sort of battery that was running phones eight or nine years ago. Something has got to give eventually. We need better batteries. Luckily I’m not the only one that thinks so. There are a few things on the way that will increase the battery power available to phone users even before the next generation arrives and each technology, as it approaches the problem differently, can be used together.
Make The Phone Use Less Power
Here’s a fact that you probably don’t know about your phone. With modern 3G models you’re currently connected to two networks, one for talk and another for data. If you don’t use your phone for e-mail or browsing, simply switching to GSM connectivity will enhance your battery power right now. That’s the principle behind the first battery extending technology, although it’s one you wont see for quite a while, and probably the one you’ll hear the least about. As data was a secondary consideration for networks when the GSM network architecture was built a second data network was built on top of that for web use and later the 3G networks replaced the second data network.
When Long Term Evolution (the name of the 4G technology) comes around the entire current network architecture will be rebuilt. 4G phone calls wont use a seperate voice network, favouring a voice over internet protocol (think Skype) style approach to voice calls. The first call in this style was made successfully a month or so ago in trials. What this means is that each phone will only have to connect to one network at a time, extending the average battery life by two thirds of it’s current lifespan. Long Term Evolution is designed to be capable of exactly what it’s name implies, meaning new technologies can easily be slotted into the new architecture without creating the battery draining dual network solution we live with today.
Make The Battery Hold More Power
Researchers at the University of Saint Andrews have been working on a new class of battery for electric cars. Their research has developed a battery that lasts three times longer than current lithium-ion batteries, using a strange chemical reaction where the battery draws in oxygen and allows it to react with it’s carbon core enhances the current charge. While the bulk of the research on these breathing batteries is being focussed on vehicles, a small part of the team is working on miniaturized versions of each battery for use in consumer electronics. They’re aiming to have batteries that hold ten times as much power as lithium-ion batteries before their research is complete. The best thing about this is that each StAIR (from St Andrews Air) battery cell is actually cheaper to make, safer to recycle, and last longer before needing replacement than lithium-ion batteries meaning most phone companies will eagerly adopt the technology as soon as it’s ready for public use.
Charge It Wirelessly
Now if you own the Palm Pre you probably read that heading, felt smug and thought that your phone can already do that. You’re right, sort of. Your phone can charge without a wire, but you have to fit a special back to the phone and rest it on a special charging station to do so. Sure, you don’t need a wire plugged into it, but you may as well have one if the phone has to stay in the same spot to charge. Nokia has been working in their Cambridge research centre on a way to wirelessly charge their phone batteries while users are out and about using a method which doesn’t involve anything plugged into the phone or any special charging apparatus.
The idea is that all those harmful little microwave electrical particles in our environment get drawn in by the phone and keep the battery topped up throughout the day, after a single charge at night. Rubbed a balloon to get some static? Hold your phone near it to get a tiny battery boost. Live under power lines? Alleviate those cancer worries by charging your phone for free then complaining about the reception under there. Strangely enough, this seemingly science-fiction endeavour is likely to be the first of these technologies that we see in practice, with Nokia aiming to have phones using this technology by the end of 2010 and helped along with solar panels. Current test models increase the battery life of phones by two fifths although this is likely to increase as the technology matures.
As I said towards the beginning of this article, all of these technologies will eventually be used together to dramatically increase battery life and maybe, just maybe, halt the phenomena of people carrying second batteries with them once and for all. Taking a 3 hour constant use battery as the standard and applying these technologies in their current state to it comes out at 21 hours (3×3 times storage, times 2/3 connection power needed, times 2/5 from extra charging) constant use which is enough for almost anyone. Once the technologies fully mature we’ll finally have the power.