Is Battery Technology Keeping up with Devices?

February 03, 2014
By: Michelle Amodio

In the ever-present smart era of devices, where our gadgets are becoming smaller and more efficient every year, one problem remains: battery life.

Tech companies are building smarter electronics but lagging in making a battery that can support said electronics on the run. Every year, CPUs, memory, displays and other components become better, faster and cheaper to manufacture. They offer more computing power, capacity and pixels for your money. The battery technology, however, is lagging. What gives?

One problem is our smartphones are getting lighter and more portable, however, to compensate for the smaller, thinner styles, so, too are the batteries getting smaller and thinner, thus offering less staying power than if, say, Apple kept the later incarnations of its iPhone (News - Alert) thicker to offer a bigger battery with more staying power.

We have ways to mitigate this on the consumer end; turn off push notifications, place phones in “airplane mode,” kill background running applications and so on. But while these are short term solutions that keep us, quite literally, plugged into the wall, what are the companies doing to bring their battery technology up to date with its computing technology?

A New York Times report says that maybe the next battery breakthrough won’t be a literal battery, but rather a mechanism that can gain energy from Wi-Fi signals and, yes, even air.

Apple’s (News - Alert) engineers have long been on the better battery bandwagon, experimenting with solar energy and charging solutions, but none of this is the norm quite yet.

The shift is moving towards wearable technology, and for people who use these devices on the go, especially for fitness purposes, staying power is of utmost importance. We might see this part of the industry move a little faster if it meant that people could literally go the distance between charges.

Another problem engineers have faced is the probability of faulty batteries. For small wearable devices, this could spell disaster, as a corrupt battery could mean rendering the device obsolete altogether.

Can we still have hope that our smart devices will soon have smart batteries to keep them going? Experts aren’t too keen on hope.

“Hoping and betting on new battery technology to me is a fool’s errand,” Tony Fadell, the former Apple vice president who led iPod and iPhone development, according to The New York Times. Fadell is now the chief executive of Nest, which makes household technology and was bought by Google (News - Alert) last month. “Don’t wait for the battery technology to get there, because it’s incredibly slow to move.”

Battery technology hasn’t been improving at the exponential rate that other smartphone technologies have, so a smartphone with longer battery life requires trade-offs. Right now it’s like asking for a way to get 1,000 miles from a gallon of gasoline.

There is a huge impetus for better batteries out there, and the big tech companies are aware of it. Whether they will get us there remains to be seen. 

Edited by Cassandra Tucker