You know you want your next phone to be half the weight and last four times as long on a charge. You want your next tablet to be feather-light and super-thin. You’d love a car that got the equivalent of 200 miles to the gallon, and let’s face facts, it would be super-cool to stop paying the electric company. There’s only one problem with this utopian vision: batteries.
It’s not like we didn’t know this 25 or 30 years ago. Battery technology hasn’t kept up with everything else. Today’s batteries are maybe twice as efficient as they were in 1990, yet computers are 100 times more powerful. There have been some improvements in packaging but more and more, we see that the size of the battery dictates the size of the device. Your tablet is really nothing but a huge battery with a few other bits thrown in.
There have been some hopeful technologies, but in the end today’s batteries are really the same things they were fifty years ago, and that’s a problem. There’s only so much magic you can work with packaging and power management. It’s hard to imagine any more miracles in miniaturization until we see some improvements in battery life.
What’s funny is that if you look at real battery performance over the last ten years, it’s gone down in most cases. Laptop battery life, commonly 4-6 hours in 2000, hasn’t changed much. Cell phone battery life, though, has taken a sharp drop. Remember when a cell phone lasted a week on a charge? Sure it wasn’t doing a whole lot but you still didn’t have to worry about it losing battery all the time. The watch situation is even more dire. Smart watches last a day or so on a charge compared to several years for a regular watch. That’s definitely not an improvement.
It would be great to end this story on a positive note and say that carbon nanotube technology or some other super-material looked really promising for batteries, but unfortunately there’s nothing out there in the short term that’s going to solve the problem. We’re well past the point of saying “unless things improve we’ll see issues in the future…” we’re seeing issues NOW and unless we really figure out how to either make better batteries or manage power better, it’s hard to see any real innovation taking place in mobile electronics in the coming years.