The amount of coverage in the tech community leading up to Apple’s iPhone event on October 4th has been staggering, even for an Apple event.  If your RSS feeds or twitter followers have any hint of a tech site or tech pundit, it’s been impossible to escape mention of it in the last week or so.

But, lost in all the speculative chatter about what Apple might or might not release come October 4th–ranging from multiple phones, to new form factors to voice activated commands–is the notion that some of the most innovative advances Apple could make (whether at this launch or at a future one) is around power management.

Why? Because power management on modern, power hungry mobile devices is an area that still leaves a great deal of room for innovation.  Consumers must manage their usage patterns to the power capabilities of their mobile device and that is a backwards way of thinking.  Hand in hand with this challenge is the ‘too many cables’ problem in consumer electronics.  Each device we own has a separate cable we must manage making activities like travelling an exercise in wrestling with power supplies.

Progress on the power management front has historically been evolutionary rather than revolutionary.  Apple did manage to squeeze 10 hours of battery life out of the iPad, and they claimed up to 40% increase in battery life for the iPhone 4 from previous models.  But, in 2011 we are still managing our day to day usage patterns to our battery life and we are still bound to our corded chargers.

What these advances do show, however, is that Apple is thinking about and spending R&D resources on power management issues.  Numerous Apple patents related to power management have been uncovered over the years —from innovations around harnessing solar power on a portable device to wireless charging.

So what are some of the kinds of innovations we can expect to see from Apple in power management?

  • Increased Battery Life:  While ‘unexciting’, expect to see Apple continue to be an industry leader in this regard (recent reports of pitiful battery life for the latest 4G Android handsets suggest many OEM manufacturers have not learned the necessary lessons about how consumers want to use their mobile devices).  This is an instance where, unlike every other player in the space (Google’s recent acquisition of Motorola notwithstanding) Apple’s owning both the hardware and software on their handsets gives them a distinct advantage.  (The software can be tuned to maximize battery life on the unique set of hardware).
  • Cut the Cord: Aftermarket wireless inductive charging systems are available for certain hardware today but they are costly and have built neither mindshare nor marketshare.  Imagine if Apple came out with a wireless charging system they debuted at the same time as a new iPhone launch where for $79 you could “cut the cord!” and drop your phone or iPad on a pad on your nightstand and it would charge wirelessly.  The ‘sexy’ factor would be huge and would give them a leg up in power management in the increasingly competitive mobile space (at least until Samsung copied it)
  • Innovative Power Enhancers:  Innovations in power management are largely constrained by physics.  New materials and methodologies that increase the amount of power a battery can hold must be developed and that’s a slow process.  As mentioned, Apple has filed several patents where they appear to be experimenting with ways to increase power draw.  One of my favorite is the one where the iphone/iPad screen is a solar panel that draws solar power and slowly feeds the battery over the course of the day.

The Takeaway

So what’s it all mean?

Apple is hard at work at improving on the way we manage power on our mobile devices.  Expect them to come out with new and innovative ways we think about power management in mobile and expect their competition to be caught flatfooted when it happens.

As for me, new form factors and voice commands are exciting.  Personally, I can’t wait for the day I can use my phone heavily for two days straight without having to think about recharging.


One Response to Why One of the Biggest Areas of Innovation for Apple in Mobile is Power Management

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