Smartphones are crammed full of incredible technology, with some of the devices on sale now boasting features such as octa-core processors, Quad HD displays, and amazing cameras. But one component of smartphone technology - the one that powers each and every device - seems to have hardly advanced at all over the years: the battery.
Users have come to expect the need to recharge their smartphones every day, and perhaps even more frequently for those who use their devices more intensely than others - but is this as good as it gets? Microsoft thinks not, and its researchers are aiming to develop the means to ensure that smartphones can routinely enjoy a week's worth of battery life.
Ranveer Chandra (above), senior researcher for mobility and networking at Microsoft Research, says that the problem comes down to the fact that the density at which batteries are able to store energy has only doubled over the last fifteen years, whereas the pace of development in other components has been far greater. But what is the solution?
Chandra told the MIT Technology Review's Digital Summit this week: "You can't just wait for the best battery technology to come along. We can make a lot of progress because systems today don't use battery intelligently." With this in mind, Microsoft has focused its research on exploring ways not to revolutionize the battery itself, but to make the power consumption of a device more efficient using existing battery technologies.
One option currently being developed is to create devices that replace a full sized Li-Ion battery with two smaller ones. The idea is that one of them would be optimized for high power usage tasks, such as gaming, while the other would be tuned to release a much smaller current, for when the phone is on standby in a pocket, or performing only the least power-hungry of operations.
Chandra explained that devices on sale today are optimized for an 'average' of these two extremes, which makes them inefficient at releasing the exact amount of power needed on demand. By adopting this twin-battery approach, his team has built prototypes that could ultimately lead to improvements of up to 50% in battery life.
Software optimizations are also being explored, with some of the group's research efforts having already been infused into existing products, including the Wi-Fi power management in Windows 8, and the Power Monitoring tool for Windows Phone developers that helps them to built more energy-efficient apps.
These are merely a couple of examples of what Microsoft has been working on, of course, and the company will be exploring many more options and ideas besides these. Chandra added that this research will likely prove helpful in the development of wearable devices too, which could be especially useful to Microsoft as its development efforts continue on its upcoming smartwatch.
For now, these efforts remain confined to laboratories and prototypes. But if Microsoft succeeds in developing the means to extend handset battery life to the point where ordinary users can expect a full week between charges, the fruits of its research could well have a significant impact not just on its own future devices, but for the wider industry.