Aren't we all tired of worrying about battery life?
Aren’t we all tired of worrying about battery life?
Image: lance ulanoff/mashable
I know. I’m the uber-geek who should be pining over every possible design permutation and obsessing about an ultra-thin, super-curved screen. And I am, to a certain extent.But it occurred to me recently that if Apple CEO Tim Cook stood on stage next month and said, [adopting Tim Cook’s soothing, midwest cadence] “You see, we realized that in our pursuit of innovation and lust-worthy design, we’d lost sight of what really matters: an incredible battery. And so… [here, Cook pauses for dramatic effect], we’re giving you more, more battery life than you ever thought possible,” I would literally lose my mind.

I’m not arguing that the iPhone’s battery life is bad or worse than, say, Samsung Galaxy S8. It’s not. In fact, Apple does a better job of battery management on these pocket-sized devices than virtually anyone else. Apple is the master of standby mode. I can pick up my iPhone after leaving it untouched and unplugged on the counter for days and find that it still has most of its battery life. Android phones inexplicably eat battery life even when you’re not touching them.

Obviously, I use my iPhone 7 all day long, so my battery life is considerably shorter. Most times, I can’t get through a day without a refresh charge. It’s not that my phone is old or there’s anything wrong with the battery (there was something off about my iPhone 6 battery), it’s just the reality of a powerful devices in a thin frame that can accommodate only so much lithium ion battery.

To better manage battery life, especially when I can’t follow the ABC Rule (Always Be Charging), I switch to battery saver mode as soon as my phone’s charge drops below 98%. I’m not kidding, I do this almost every day. If I play my cards right, I’ll still have over 50% charge by later afternoon.

Even in battery saver mode, if I go through a day of heavy use, my phone could be totally drained after six or seven hours. Which is why I think Apple has a golden opportunity here.

But first we have to acknowledge that the iPhone 7 design is already really, really good. If we do that — and accept the fact that the Touch ID button is a useful feature and that the lightning port is fine where it is, and a screen that extends to and wraps around the FaceTime camera probably isn’t necessary, Apple can focus all its R&D, and considerable resources on battery technology.

Chief competitor Samsung missed that opportunity with the Galaxy Note 8, but that could change on future handsets.

In the aftermath of the Note 7 debacle, Samsung  spent millions (if not billions) overhauling its battery production and testing process, but it did nothing to fundamentally alter lithium ion battery technology.

When I asked Samsung Mobile Chief DJ Koh earlier this month about investor and tech legend Bill Joy’s “Jesus Battery” breakthrough, which literally alters battery chemistry (using less volatile solid polymer instead of liquid) in a way that makes them safer and more efficient, Koh and his team seemed unaware of the news.

Samsung’s laudable, but somewhat myopic focus on safety of the device may have precluded more dramatic battery technology changes — for now.

While not addressing the Jesus Battery news, Justin Denison, SVP of Samsung Electronics America Product Marketing and Strategy, told me “We aligned with and created a battery advisory forum with some of the brightest minds in industry, from academic and industry. That’s helped stimulate conversations about what’s next and where it goes. Beyond that, I don’t think we’re in a position to announce anything.”

In other words, Samsung is at least thinking about the next big thing in battery technology. But, like Apple, it’s also busy chasing design and technology wins that will attract new customers and, it hopes, siphon customers away from Apple.

My point is, that lithium ion batteries are really no better than they were almost decade ago.

Apple is, similarly, focused on Android switchers. Battery life is always mentioned during launch events, and it appears to be getting better and better. In the iPhone 7 (and 7 Plus), for example, Apple promised “the best battery life ever in an iPhone.” That longer battery life was not, however, a product of a better battery. Apple credited the more efficient A10 Fusion Chip. The company also uses artificial intelligence in iOS 10 to help manage and extend battery life, which is awesome, but still not better battery technology.

My point is that lithium ion batteries are really no better than they were almost decade ago, and companies like Apple do everything they can to manage silicon efficiencies and apply software management to extend battery life. Which is why any gains we see with each new iPhone are incremental at best and rarely change our day-to-day battery usage or do anything to manage the drop-off in recharge capacity after two years of use.

When Apple started selling its own battery-filled Smart Battery Cases in 2015, it was basically crying “Uncle!” in the better battery battle. I had one of those cases on my iPhone 6, which, because it doubled my battery life (and made the device twice as heavy), almost made me forget about battery woes.

Now I carry an unadorned iPhone 7 and spend at least 20 minutes a day thinking about the charge on my phone, which is why I don’t really care about a half dozen more useless features.

Promise me three day battery life, Apple, and I will buy anything you unveil next month, even if it’s nothing but the better battery we all really need.

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