It doesn’t take long after you buy a new smartphone to come to the realization that there’s something you wish you could change: how many hours of talking, texting, news-reading, and game-playing your phone can last through. While screens get brighter, chips get faster, cameras get sharper, and touchscreens get smarter, there isn’t an innovation on the horizon that will enable your phone to last days without a charge.
But Ina Fried reports for Re/code that it isn’t all bad news on the battery front — even though she notes that chips double in speed and power roughly every two years, while battery technology has been advancing at a rate of only about 10% per year. Most of that progress is squarely aimed at supporting things like bigger screens and more power-intensive features, instead of enabling longer battery life. Phones still last approximately a day, or less than that for particularly heavy users.
Fried explains, however, that all hope isn’t lost because the tech industry is achieving far faster advancement in another area: quick recharging of those same batteries that aren’t improving all that quickly. At a battery conference in Japan, Huawei unveiled a quick-charging smartphone battery that can be charged to almost half of its capacity in five minutes.
Another, smaller-capacity battery can get two-thirds of a full charge in just two minutes. Huawei didn’t immediately disclose when it expects these faster-charging batteries to hit the market. But according to a company statement, Huawei envisions that “Soon, we will all be able to charge our batteries to full power in the time it takes to grab a coffee.”
Qualcomm already builds support for a quick charging feature into many of its chips. And beginning with next year’s Snapdragon 820 and other new chips, Qualcomm has promised a further improvement of 38%, with Quick Charge 3.0, which the company claims is four times faster than conventional charging.
The company explains of the new technology, “Quick Charge 3.0 employs Intelligent Negotiation for Optimum Voltage (INOV), an algorithm which allows your portable device to determine what power level to request at any point in time, enabling optimum power transfer while maximizing efficiency.” The technology also supports a wider range of voltage options, “allowing a mobile device to dynamically adjust to the ideal voltage level supported by that specific device.”
The speed gains that future phones will gain thanks to the new version of Qualcomm’s quick charging technology will be significant. Today’s fast-charging options — as illustrated by smartphones like the Droid Turbo 2, the LG G4, the BlackBerry Priv, and the Galaxy Note 4 — come with Version 2 of Qualcomm’s technology. That standard enables a large phone battery to get a 60% charge in 30 minutes, compared to a 12% charge in the same period of time using conventional charging technology.
Fried notes that another area in which smartphones are improving — in the absence of batteries with significantly longer battery life — is in their ability to let you know which apps are draining your battery, and to give you options when your battery power runs low. With the launch of iOS 9, for instance, Apple introduced a low power mode that can extend your iPhone’s battery life by shutting off nonessential functions. And Android Marshmallow offers several additions, including a doze mode for when your phone isn’t being used, and the option to put specific apps into standby mode when you’re using them only infrequently.