Always in the Red: The Life and Death of the Smartphone Battery

Posted on August 13, 2015

Staying charged is a constant battle. It requires forward thinking and planning: do I have a cable? Will I need an adapter?

We have a tendency to look back at our Nokia bricks with nostalgia. Those were the good times, when you could go days without a charge and if you dropped your phone, it was more likely to damage the floor than break the phone!

The beneficial impact that smartphones have had is irrefutable. They have revolutionised the way that we communicate, prompting a wave of lifestyle tools that we live by and giving us access to boundless information, entertainment and cat videos! Like it or not, they are a key aspect of our everyday lives and we are at a stage where we cannot live without them.

The pace of development has been astonishing. The first generation iPhone was announced almost eight years ago to the day. They haven’t just penetrated the market, they have completely saturated it.

The first iPhone had just a 3.5” display, 480x320 pixel resolution, a 2 megapixel camera and 8GB of storage as standard. The new Moto X has a 5.7” screen, 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution, a 21 megapixel camera and 16 GB of storage as standard. The chip for the first ever iPhone was 412 megahertz, compared to the 1.8 gigahertz on the new Moto X.

For all of the amazing progress made on phone specs, it is undeniable that innovation in batteries has lagged far behind.

The battery capacity for the iPhone was about 1400 millampere hour (mAh).[1] One of the key features of the Moto X is its 3000 mAh capacity. So that means the battery is twice as good and should last twice as long, right? Wrong.

Battery power is a coefficient of size. The Moto X gets superior power from a bigger battery.

Then, take into account the more power hungry hardware, more powerful chips and larger, better resolution screens, overlay that with exponentially more sophisticated software and you are holding in your hand the insatiable little monster that is a modern mobile phone. Faster networks and better connectivity have colluded to create a conundrum of physics and consumer demands that torture some of us on a daily basis.

Far from being resolved, this issue looks like it will get worse and people are becoming increasingly desperate in their quest for power, otherwise known as ‘juice’. A man in the UK was arrested last month for ‘abstracting electricity’ – the crime of stealing electricity. He plugged his phone in on the train and lived to regret it. Another man, a theatre-goer at a Broadway play, jumped on stage to plug his phone into a fake socket onstage a few weeks ago.  These dramas look set to increase without swift technological intervention.

During the press junket for the launch of the new Moto X, the company’s President Rick Osterloh told the BBC that he is waiting for an “unforeseen leap” in battery technology. That leap may not be far off, but it isn’t the battery that will revolutionise power in consumer electronics.

We, at Intelligent Energy, believe that the development of embedded fuel cells in smartphones, a journey upon which we have already embarked, will give the old lithium-ion battery a new lease of life, over and over and over again. It is quite simply a game changer!

An embedded fuel cell could be refuelled with hydrogen gas from a recyclable canister and power the phone on its own or recharge the battery. Our first of kind consumer electronics product, Upp, can recharge a smartphone five times with one cartridge. This mobile charger offers instant mobile power and total freedom from desperate charging situations – no more crawling around in a client meeting room to plug your phone in. It is quite literally a mini, portable generator. It is on shelves in selected Apple stores throughout the UK and it is but the start of our journey towards delivering a fuel cell embedded device.

Once our fuel cell technology is brought to the inside of the consumer electronic device, we will have moved some way to becoming liberated from the electrical grid entirely. Smartphones could then be able to generate their own CLEAN power and the dream of a week of battery life could be a reality.

This may sound like blue sky thinking, and it is true that we aren’t quite there yet, but we are much closer than you might think. Rick Osterloh, Motorola’s President, may be waiting for the brand new battery, but what he needs is a brand new source of power: a hydrogen fuel cell.

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