A Call to Amps — Phone Batteries

[From original article-https://akshitkawatra.wordpress.com/2015/10/12/a-call-to-amps-phone-batteries/]

Here’s to the crazy ones, misfits, rebels, troublemakers, the Jobs, the Pages, the Zucks, the Nadellas, the inventors, the Tech Gurus, the VCs — you have given phones a purpose, with the calling function and a million apps. You have given it a body, with the metal frames, the force touch surfaces and the fingerprint sensors. You have given it a mind, with the multiGHz processors and the multiGB RAMs. Now it’s time you give them a soul and bring them to life, by making it self sustainable and self-em’powered’.

This comes from a disgruntled user who tried phones from the top three brands of the world to solve one problem of having a long lasting phone, but there has been hardly anything closely satisfying. This also comes from a user who spent a weekend searching for the best power bank in the market, bought an extra pair of charging cables for each place he sits during the day, and who also installed a phone cleaner app to boost battery performance.

Simply put, battery innovation in phones has lagged behind other innovations. For all those interested, or similarly annoyed with abysmal battery-tech of our times, following are the reasons why we are in pain and agony:

Long battery-tech innovation cycle and resultant money draught:

Material science (or battery research) does not follow the same innovation cycle as innovation technology. Integrated circuits are about ‘moving electrons’, while batteries are about ‘moving atoms’. Therefore, It is widely accepted that battery innovation has not and will not match the pace of chipset industry’s (Moore’s Law compliant) innovation cycle. MIT-based startup Ambri, LG-backed A123, or VC-backed Boston-Power have never been able to make it to securing a large contract or starting a demonstration factory, while a lot of others have shut down due to depleting funds over long period of turnover-less innovation.

Price pressure on large corporations:

Most new phone companies are betting on prices rather than innovation. What’s worse is that bigger corporations like Apple are also playing a catch-up game with the smaller players, choosing popular features like big screens, NFCs and IPS LCDs over bigger batteries and faster cables. Also there is a lack of contracts from bigger corporations for mass market production of new battery-tech coming from startups, due to high risk involved. A lot of research historically has come from huge tenders for mass market production of a new technology. No major phone company is willing to take the risk of investing in a battery startup. Apple’s biggest battery related acquisition of LuxVue is merely for a power-saver solution rather than battery-tech innovation.

Lack of VC funds:

Venture Capitalists today, aiming to reap investments in 5 years these days, are in no mood take it slow and invest in battery research companies due to the above mentioned innovation cycles. “The battery market is much more difficult for component makers and virtually every venture capitalist I spoke to seemed skeptical of someone making it as a battery component supplier” — Executive, SanDisk

Space and auto battery-tech trumping phones due to better reward for research:

Relatively smaller battery companies like Envia, OXIS Energy and PolyPlus are busy working for Space companies, US Army and automobile companies as these industries are the ones who are more emphatic about battery research. What this means is that smartphones are going to mimic the research that is done for auto, space and army, and play the catchup game.

So..

Someone in the mobile ecosystem needs to grow the innovation ‘fibre’ and start pumping funds into battery-tech research for phones, be it VCs, smartphone makers or software giants. Or perhaps, all we need is another Elon Musk, but building a Gigafactory for smartphones and not automobiles.

Lastly, what smartphone makers also do need to understand is that we don’t give a damn about either having a double-edged/invertible USB Type-C PIN or a micro-USB cable, just the same way we don’t care about drinking beer straight from the bottle or from a mug as long as there is enough beer to last the night. Innovators need to acknowledge the big problem at hand and stop taking out new phone versions with price hikes with less or no real improvements.

Early Adopter // Amazon, Wharton, Bain