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Smartphone battery life: 2 problems, 4 fixes (Smartphones Unlocked)



Imagine a smartphone that charges completely in five minutes and lasts a full 10 hours before running on empty. Crazy, right? Toting along the charging cord is just another part of life with 4G streaming and a power-hungry screen.

Back in January, Motorola’s Droid Razr Maxx offered the first real glimmer of hope for long-life batteries with the 3,300mAh ticker that dwarfed the battery in any other available handset — it ran for 19 hours in CNET’s tests, a longevity that hasn’t been reproduced since.

That leaves the question I get asked over and over again: why is it taking so long for batteries to catch up to all the other advances in smartphone technology?

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is, help is on the way. The bad news is, much of the cutting-edge development is still a year or two out. Here’s a look at some of the exciting evolutions, and even revolutions, coming to the stuff that fuels our smartphones.

Smartphone batteries today: Two ways to get more yield
Right now, all smartphones use rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. One trick to eke out longer battery life is to simply pack in a larger battery, as with the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (3,100mAh battery.) However, those oversize screens need more power to shine brightly.

A second tactic is to use embedded (read: nonremovable) batteries in phones, like HTC’s One X, Motorola’s Droid Razr phones, and every Apple iPhone. Embedded batteries can take on any dimension and nook within the phone’s guts. They also require less packaging, which gives phone makers more leeway to increase the battery’s size.

These methods help suck more power out of every brick, but researchers are working on more radical change. Before they charge ahead, there are several problems that get in the way.

Problem: Users are abusers
Use a phone to make a couple of calls or the occasional text, and it’ll last for days on a single charge. Use it as your data center, communications hub, and entertainment nexus, and you’re looking at a nightly recharge.

Streaming music and videos gobble up the most battery, but so do downloading and uploading apps, photos, and status updates. Searching for Wi-Fi and GPS signal demands power, as does lighting up the screen. Apps that update in the background are also culprits (especially with this glitch.)

Problem: Chemistry is chemistry
Part of the problem comes down to the periodic table, and scientists’ challenge to use the same elements in novel ways.

There are only so many chemicals you can use to create a battery, and there are fewer combinations that are stable enough not to erupt when damaged. Lithium-ion batteries are used in smaller consumer electronics because of their comparatively high power yield and relative safety.

 Solution: The stuff inside

Tucked into a business park in a nondescript section of Fremont, Calif., researchers at Leyden Energy are working to increase battery life by concentrating on the stuff inside of the battery.

Basic battery structure is fairly straightforward, which makes redesigning them a challenge. Lithium ion batteries have two electrodes — an anode and a cathode — and an electrolyte material in between that carries the ions from one cathode to the other to complete the charge or discharge.

Here in Leyden Energy’s cleanroom facility, technicians develop and test batteries made with a specialized solution that promise to last 10 percent longer per charge.

Leyden’s electrolyte material uses lithium imide as the electrolyte salt, a compound that keeps the chemicals inside more stable, especially when the battery reaches higher temperatures. All devices heat up — 104 F/40 C is the average internal temperature — and a spinning, straining processor can ratchet up the degrees.

Hot devices also cause the battery to swell and exacerbates the production of hydrofluoric acid, a toxic by-product that degrades batteries over time. The argument of “thermal resilience,” keeping internal temperatures cooler, is Leyden’s central benefit.

As a result, Leyden says its batteries have a longer lifespan than today’s lithium-ion batteries, between 750-800 charging cycles until the battery hits 80 percent of its original capacity, versus the 350-500 cycle average of regular lithium ion batteries. All told, Leyden promises up to three times the cycle life of a battery, and triple the calendar life, depending on how long the battery could sit in a warm warehouse before it’s shipped out in a device.

Although Leyden’s patent-protected imide salts don’t have the same boom-pow factor as a silicon anode, there’s the added benefit that Leyden’s batteries keep the same form factor and assembly line as ever. “It’s tough to come across a solution that works with your existing technology…at a similar cost,” ABI analyst Michael Morgan said about Leyden. “All that doesn’t come together very often.” With Leyden’s design, “you just swap out the goo that goes in the middle.”

Leyden’s design will cost a little more than today’s batteries, and is about 18 months from appearing in the mass market. In June, chip-maker Nvidia and Leyden partnered up to put Leyden’s battery in a Tegra 3 tablet reference design. If Nvidia’s partners, like Asus for example, like what they see, they could commit to making the tablet, battery and all.

Solution: Get with silicon
Many researchers have a crush on silicon as the solution to better battery life, specifically making anodes out of the stuff, and for good reason. You can cram up to 10 times more ions into silicon than the traditional graphite. There’s just one major drawback: silicon anodes quickly swelled and then cracked, deteriorating the battery. Oops.

It was back to the drawing board for Stanford University professor Yi Cui, who has since engineered a double-walled silicon structure that uses a touch outer wall like a belt to keep an inner silicon sanctum from overexpanding.

Stanford’s research team claims that its silicon-headed lithium-ion batteries last for 6,000 charging cycles before reaching 85 percent of the battery’s original capacity. This 80 percent or 85 percent mark is an industry standard when talking about the calendar life of a battery, or when to replace it.

Like a lot of researchers, Cui uses nanotechnology to build his silicon anode. The larger surface area creates a higher number of sites for power-creating reactions. A nanostructure also lets Cui fashion “anti-space,” which he says leaves room for materials to expand without breaking the whole.

In addition, shrinking the component parts helps fashion a battery that’s lighter and smaller than the standard lithium-ion bundle, but retains the same energy density. Smaller, more powerful batteries can impact the phone’s eventual design and can also create room for other elements: perhaps a larger camera module or maybe even a second battery.

Cui’s company, Amprius, hopes to see his high-power nano-structure batteries in tablets, smartphones, laptops, and electric vehicles in another two years.

“Silicon is low-cost by itself, and we are developing the manufacturing process right now for these type of structures,” Cui told me over the phone. “Materials like silicon can create a huge impact to the smartphone industry.”

Solution: Think tin
Researchers out of Washington State University are also on the quest to replace the graphite anode with another electrode substance. This time, tin.

Lead researcher Grant Norton and his team report findings that a tin anode can almost triple the capacity of the lithium-ion battery’s usual graphite head. True, the battery wouldn’t be as powerful as silicon’s potential, but it also isn’t as short-lived as those earlier experiments.

The team’s tin method uses electroplating, a process that binds metal to another surface (in this case, copper). Norton claims that the tin anode would not just last longer but also cost less to build than graphite anodes. Since the rest of the battery would look the same as what you already have in your phone, the design should appeal to device-makers. Likewise, the electroplating process is used often in manufacturing and wouldn’t necessarily require machining new tools.

Solution: Make it 3D
Much battery R&D focuses on improving one part of the creation process, but Amy Prieto has much more radical plans. The company she founded, Prieto Battery, is giving the entire power cell a makeover.

Prieto reimagines the lithium-ion battery in a 3D solid state form, with no liquid electrolyte at all. Instead, copper foam (first generation) or a nanowire structure (second generation) forms the backbone, with the anode, cathode, and electrolyte material all coated on top using a similar electroplating process as the tin solution above.

The foam or spun nanowire is important because it increases the surface area for the lithium ion movement to take place; the shorter distances between the components means that charges generate very quickly — theoretically five minutes for a complete charge. The arrangement keeps the anode and electrolyte in constant contact, which also speeds up reactions.

Prieto Battery’s solid state batteries introduce a radical change to the standard model.

The anode in a Prieto battery is different, too. Instead of graphite, Prieto uses copper antimonide, a compound that stores more lithium per unit of volume than graphite does. All told, a Prieto battery is projected to last 10 full hours and completely charge in five minutes. An early prototype made with slightly different materials lasted 750 charging cycles before dropping to 80 percent of the total charge capacity. The final battery blueprint calculates that a Prieto battery will last 30 percent longer than a conventional battery.

As with the other three fixes to the battery life problem, Prieto batteries are still in development, but Prieto looks to commercialization in 18 months after they license the patent-pending architecture to other manufacturers.

It turns out that Prieto is also a bit of a Captain Planet, emphasizing that a Prieto battery doesn’t call for clean rooms and the only acid it uses is citric. “You can dump it down a sink,” Prieto told me, “And it’s really cheap.”

Using off-the-shelf manufacturing equipment and steps that make more power cells on a given production line will help cut manufacturing costs.

The road ahead
A battery than can go the distance isn’t just about leaving the charger at home for a day or two; it’s also about creating smarter smartphones. More powerful batteries can support far more complex computing and gaming tasks; create a GPS beacon; work with a greater number of peripheral devices like medical equipment; and support resource-demanding artificial intelligence like Siri and other assistants.

A long-life battery can open the doors to carry the smartphone to the next step of being a truly personal, portable electronic powerhouse



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4G SIM में चलेगा 5G या खरीदना होगा नया सिम कार्ड और फोन: जानिए हर सवाल का जवाब




5G launch होने के बाद कई लोग सोच रहे होंगे कि अब 4G SIM card का क्या करें? और 4G Phone का क्या? क्या उन्हें फेंकने और 5G पर स्विच होने का समय आ गया है? यदि आपके मन में भी ये सवाल उठ रहे हैं, तो पढ़ें

भारत में प्रधान मंत्री नरेंद्र मोदी ने आज आधिकारिक तौर पर 5G launch कर दिया है। आने वाले कुछ सालों में पूरे भारत में 5G services मिलना शुरू हो जाएंगी। रिलायंस जियो के साथ एयरटेल ने बताया कि जल्द ही 5G सर्विसेस को देशभर में रोलआउट किया जाएगा। भारत में 5G तेज इंटरनेट स्पीड लो लेटेंसी, साथ ही साथ विश्वसनीय कनेक्टिविटी जैसी सुविधाएं प्रदान करेगा। ऐसे में कई लोग सोच रहे होंगे कि अब 4G सिम कार्ड का क्या करें? क्या उन्हें दूर करने और 5G को पूरी तरह से अपनाने का समय आ गया है? और उन पुराने 4G स्मार्टफोन का क्या? क्या उन्हें दूर फेंकने और 5G कनेक्टिविटी पर स्विच करने का समय आ गया है? यदि आपके मन में भी ये सवाल उठ रहे हैं और आप कंफ्यूजन की स्थिति में हैं, तो यहां वह सब कुछ है जो आपको जानना आवश्यक है।

भारत में 5G लॉन्च, क्या अब 4G सिम कार्ड फेंकने का समय आ गया है?

– नहीं, फिलहाल कुछ सालों तो बिल्कुल नहीं! 5G के आने के बावजूद, 4G LTE है जो भारत के टेलीकम्युनिकेशन इंफ्रास्ट्रक्चर की रीढ़ बना रहेगा। अगले दो सालों में, एयरटेल और जियो जैसे दूरसंचार ऑपरेटर जितना संभव हो सके अपने 5G नेटवर्क का विस्तार करेंगे। तब तक, आपका 4G सिम कार्ड आज की तरह ही काम करता रहेगा।

– 5G अपने शुरुआती दिनों में उतना विश्वसनीय और आसानी से उपलब्ध नहीं होगा जितना आज 4G है। 5G केवल कुछ ही पॉकेट में उपलब्ध होगा, वह भी कुछ ही शहरों में। इसलिए, आपको कुछ क्षेत्रों में केवल 5G स्पीड मिलेगी और 4G वह है जिस पर उद्योग बाकी क्षेत्रों के लिए निर्भर करेगा।

– एयरटेल का कहना है कि उसके 4G सिम कार्ड यूज करने वाले ग्राहक बिना सिम कार्ड बदले 5G सर्विसेस का उपयोग तब कर सकेंगे, जब सर्विस उनके क्षेत्र में एक्टिवेट हो जाएगी। इसलिए आपको अपना 4G सिम कार्ड बिल्कुल भी फेंकना नहीं चाहिए। जियो ने अभी तक इस पर कोई स्पष्टीकरण जारी नहीं किया है।

– हम नहीं जानते कि भारत में 5G सर्विसेस की कीमत कितनी होगी। ऑपरेटरों ने संकेत दिया है कि भारत में 4G सर्विसेस की तुलना में 5G थोड़ा अधिक महंगा है और इसलिए अधिकांश लोगों के लिए 4G अधिक किफायती विकल्प बना रह सकता है। अधिकांश यूजर्स के लिए, 4G LTE सस्ती कीमतों पर पर्याप्त डेटा स्पीड प्रदान करना जारी रखेगा, जबकि 5G हाई स्पीड चाहने वाले प्रो यूजर्स की जरूरतों को पूरा कर सकता है।

क्या अब किसी काम के नहीं रहेंगे 4G स्मार्टफोन: क्या इन्हें फेंकन का समय आ गया है?

– बिल्कुल भी नहीं। यदि आप 4G स्मार्टफोन का उपयोग कर रहे हैं, तो 5G प्राप्त करने के लिए इसे फेंकने की कोई आवश्यकता नहीं है। कम से कम अगले कुछ सालों तक को बिल्कुल नहीं, 4G LTE ऑनलाइन होने का प्राइमरी तरीका बना रह सकता है। तो आपका 4G स्मार्टफोन आज की तरह काम करता रहेगा।

– जब 5G चलन में आता है, तब भी आपका 4G फोन और उसका 4G सिम कार्ड अच्छी तरह काम करता रहेगा। आप अपने पुराने फोन से हमेशा कोई न कोई उपयोग कर सकते हैं- जैसे कि आपकी कार के लिए एक GPS नेविगेशन यूनिट या आपके बच्चे के लिए पहला स्मार्टफोन।

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How design beats functionality in Technology




Philip W Schiller, Apple’s vice president for marketing, strode across the stage of the California Theater in San Jose last week trumpeting the virtues of new Apple products. As he caressed the side of the latest iMac personal computer, he noted how thin it was – 5 millimeters, 80 percent thinner than the last one. Then he said, with an air of surprise, as if he had just thought of it: “Isn’t itamazing how something new makes the previous thing instantly look old?”

Umm, yes, Mr Schiller, you design your products that way. It is part of a strategy that Apple has perfected. How else can the company persuade people to replace their perfectly fine iPhone, iPad, iMac and iEverything else year after year?

In the past, electronics makers could convince consumers that the design was different, because it actually was. The first iMac, for example, was a blue bubble. Then it looked like a desk lamp, and now it is a rectangular sheet of glass with the electronics hidden behind it. The iPod designs changed, too, over time, before they became progressively smaller sheets of glass.

Certainly makers add features like better cameras or tweak the software – Siri and Passbook on theiPhone are examples of that for Apple – to persuade people to upgrade. But in the last few years, consumer electronics have started to share one characteristic, no matter who makes them: They are all rectangles. Now, companies like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google need to persuade consumers to buy new rectangles once a year.

“This phenomenon happened to the TV manufacturers a few years ago. They all started to look the same: flat panels on a wall,” said Donald A Norman, author of “The Design of Everyday Things.”

The consequences for manufacturers were disastrous. “Customers no longer had to buy the higher-end Sony model; instead, they could get the cheaper, Chinese one,” Norman said. “This is what today’s companies are scared of. Turn off the screen on a smartphone or tablet and they look identical. They’re just rectangles.”

Each year, Apple and other companies seem to put those rectangles in a vise, flatten them slightly, alter the exterior dimensions and showcase them as the next big, or little, thing. (Apple did not comment on its design strategy.)

This was not always the case. As a child I remember exploring my father’s Minolta film camera – a camera from the mid-1950s that was given to him by his father. Although film cameras are now for the most part obsolete, you can bet that camera can still take 36 pictures without a hitch.

Yet can you imagine, 10 years from now, someone handing a child an iPad Mini, the latest Apple gadget? They would scoff, just as people do today when they see an older – 2 or 3 years old – version of the iPhone.

There is a term for all of this: “planned obsolescence,” which was popularised in the 1950s by Brooks Stevens, an industrial designer who specialised in making new cars. Briskly adopted by post-war consumer goods industries, the strategy coaxed Americans to sell their 1955 Cadillacs for the 1956 Cadillacs with their pronounced tail fins, and then the 1957s with even more exaggerated fins, and then ’58s, ’59s and so on.

Stevens’ term was often misinterpreted as meaning things were designed to fall apart on a regular schedule. But he believed that true upgrades and design changes would make people want to buy the latest thing. That still holds true in this era, when consumers are supposedly wary of the hucksterism of manufacturers. If you don’t upgrade to the latest iPhone or iPad, you fear you may look dated and clueless, even though the rational part of your brain says, “This is a perfectly fine, useful device.”

Consumer electronics companies, Norman noted, have adopted the same marketing techniques the automobile industry perfected decades ago.

“This is an old-time trick – they’re not inventing anything new,” he said. “Yet it’s to the detriment of the consumer and the environment, but perhaps to the betterment of the stockholder.”

He added: “For Apple, you forgot the other trick: change the plugs!” While the rest of the electronics industry has adopted micro-USB ports, Apple just changed the proprietary ports and plugs on all of its latest devices – laptops, iPads and iPhones included.

Even so, my first iPod still plays music. My laptop from four years ago can still browse the Web. And my first e-readers can still display books.

It seems some consumers are starting to feel upgrade fatigue. There is no lift in PC sales, and people are owning them longer. A report by Recon Analytics, a market research firm, found that people around the globe were waiting longer to buy new mobile phones. In 2007, Americans upgraded their phones every 18.7 months on average; three years later, that number had stretched to 21.1 months. In Finland, people now wait 74.5 months to upgrade, compared with 41.8 months in 2007.

Maybe Schiller’s comment about the iMac isn’t how consumers see it anymore. Instead, people are starting to realise that these upgraded products are simply flatter rectangles that don’t really offer much more than the last model. Just like the tail fins on the ’56 Cadillac.

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Can Windows Phone 8 stop Nokia’s downward spiral?




For Nokia, it comes down to this: Is Microsoft’s new phone software going to get it back in the smartphone race, or is it going to be too late?

After being the top seller of cellphones in the world for 14 years, Nokia failed to meet the challenge when Apple in 2007 introduced thedazzling iPhone that caught the imagination of design-conscious customers and rattled mobile markets.

The Finnish company hit a downward spiral that has led to shrinking sales and market share, plant closures, thousands of layoffs and downgrades by credit agencies to junk status.

On Friday, research firm IDC said that in the July-to-September period, Nokia slid for the first time off the list of the top five smartphone makers in the world. It’s still the second-largest maker of phones overall, but sales of non-smartphones are shrinking across the industry, and there’s little profit there.

The ailing company’s CEO, Stephen Elop, sees Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 8 software as a chance to reverse that trend, describing it as a catalyst for the new models.

On Monday, Microsoft is hosting a big launch event for the software at an arena in San Francisco. The first Windows 8 phones from Nokia, Samsung and HTC are expected to hit store shelves next month.

The launch of Windows Phone 8 follows on the heels of Windows 8 for PCs and tablets, which Microsoft released on Friday. That operating system has borrowed its look from Windows Phone, meaning Microsoft now has a unified look across PCs and phones – at least if people take to Windows 8. The company has also made it easy for developers to create software that runs on both platforms with minor modifications.

Analysts are calling this a make-or-break moment for Nokia.

“Nokia is placing a huge bet on Microsoft and if the gamble doesn’t pay off, the losses can be high,” said Neil Mawston from Strategy Analytics, near London. “It’s putting all its eggs in one basket and that’s quite a high-risk strategy.”

In February last year, Nokia announced it was teaming up with Microsoft to replace its old Symbian and next-generation MeeGo software platforms with Windows. This move was made in the hope that it would rejuvenate the company and claw back lost ground.

Eight months later, they produced the first Nokia Windows Phone. Consumers didn’t warm to it, and it soon became clear that these phones, based on Windows Phone 7, were going to become obsolete. They can’t be upgraded to Windows Phone 8. Lumia sales slumped to 2.9 million units in the third quarter after reaching 4 million in the previous three months.

“Retailers withdrew marketing and promotion because no one wants to sell customers a device that ages in a few months,” says Michael Schroeder, analyst at FIM Bank in Helsinki.

“Had there been a seamless transfer to Windows 8 from the old (Lumia) devices, sales figures would have been much higher last quarter.”

Mawston gives Nokia until April to prove it’s still in the race.

“If Nokia does not have more than 5 percent of the global smartphone market by the end of the first quarter 2013, alarm bells will be ringing,” Mawston said.

Analysts estimate Nokia’s current global smartphone market share to be some 4 percent – down from 14 percent a year ago. Meanwhile, uncertainty clouds its new venture with Microsoft.

“We’re a bit in the dark here,” Schroeder said. “Right now we can’t really say anything about Nokia’s future. Everything depends on how the new devices are received in the market.”

Nokia says its Lumia 920 and 820 phones are just the beginning of a new range of Windows Phone 8 devices, but early evaluations suggest they lack the “wow” effect necessary to make a dent in the smartphone market.

Also, Windows Phone 8 lags behind in the number of third-party applications available. There are some 100,000 available. Google’s and Apple’s stores have six or seven times as many.

“It’s a perception thing really,” Mawston of Strategy Analytics said. “Like in supermarket wars, if you have a store with lots of shelves with lots of apps, then consumers will choose you over a smaller store that has a smaller offering – even if you can’t use all those apps.”

Analysts expect 700 million smartphones to be sold worldwide this year. While network operators and retailers may welcome a third software system to challenge the dominance of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, it is the consumer who will ultimately decide Nokia’s and Windows Phone 8’s fate.

Beside the smartphone challenge, Nokia is feeling the pinch in the lower end with manufacturers in China and in Asia producing cut-rate non-smartphones – Nokia’s former domain. Earlier this year, Samsung overtook it as the world’s no. 1 mobile phone vendor, ending Nokia’s reign that peaked in 2008 with a 40 percent market share.

“Dumb” phones continue to be the backbone of Nokia operations, including in India where it’s a top seller. With strong and extensive distribution networks and a brand well-known in emerging markets, all might not be lost for the company that grew from making paper and rubber boots to being the biggest manufacturer of cellphones.

Mawston says that in theory, Nokia and Microsoft have a good chance of success as they offer an across-the-board system that stretches across home computers, mobiles, laptops, tablets as well as in the office, backed by Nokia’s strong distribution and hardware and Microsoft’s multi-platform software.

“If they can exploit that underlying market platform… and tie it all together in a good hardware portfolio, then potentially Microsoft and Nokia could be a very, very strong partnership – a bit like bringing together Batman and Robin,” Mawston said. “But, in practice, whether they can execute on that reality still is a great unknown and remains to be seen.”

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