If you go back a decade to when mobile phones just made phone calls and sent text messages, it was not uncommon to go a week in between charges. Now, some of us keep cigarette plug chargers in our cars for our phones.
Actually, battery power has not been slacking. Ranveer Chandra, senior researcher for mobility and networking at Microsoft Research, told the crowd at MIT Technology Review’s Digital Summit in San Francisco that battery power storage density has doubled over the last 15 years. The problem is we have large OLED high-definition screens, touchscreens and quad-core processors in these phones. So the pace of component development has exceeded the pace of battery innovation.
Chandra said Microsoft Research has tackled the problem not just by focusing on the battery technology, but also on making the power consumption of a device more efficient using existing battery technologies.
One of the solutions being explored is using two smaller batteries rather than one large one. The thinking is that one of them would be optimized for high power usage tasks, such as playing games, while the other would be tuned to release a much lower current for when the phone is in standby mode or doing very simple functions.
Batteries today are optimized for somewhere between standby mode and high power usage mode, Chandra said. This makes them inefficient because they can't give power when needed and can't truly power down when not needed. His team has built prototypes with this twin-battery approach that could improve battery life by up to 50%.
As for software optimization, some of the group's efforts have already been rolled into Microsoft products. For example, Windows Phone has Wi-Fi power management and a Power Monitoring tool to help Windows Phone developers build more energy-efficient apps.
Another idea to extend battery life is known as E-Loupe, which allows a mobile operating system to identify and police apps that consume a lot of power, even when a person is not actively using them. It can pause or slow the activity of a background process, such as downloading a large file, to maximize battery life.
Chandra thinks wearable devices and electric cars could also benefit from software that is able to understand and adapt battery use, which would make sense since Microsoft is planning on developing a smartwatch. For now, these efforts largely remain lab experiments.