Battery Is Charged
There has been a lot of talk about batteries and power usage recently. It was all kicked off by the announcement and subsequent release of the third-generation iPad. When the iPad was originally released in 2010 many, including myself, were amazed that the iPad had such incredible battery life that it no longer became an issue. It was not something that was worried about.
Apple was obviously proud of the quoted battery life figures it presented with the first iPad because it maintained them with the iPad 2. But what that demonstrated was that Apple was pleased with the battery life and saw it as a major feature and therefore worked hard to produce a System-on-Chip (SoC) that could be powerful yet power efficient. With the iPad 2 Apple doubled the processing speed from the original iPad and delivered up to nine times the graphics performance whilst making the unit thinner and maintaining (in fact, increasing) battery capacity.
But that’s nothing compared to what happened on the iPad 3.
We’ve all read it a thousand times by now but it’s worth stating; with the latest iPad Apple had more than just one power usage quandary, it had three. To power the huge retina display Apple needed graphics power and that sucks battery, also to keep the display bright and evenly lit with strong colours Apple included more LED bars to the iPad. Finally Apple took the bold step of including LTE cellular connectivity, a technology in its infancy and one that is known to be a battery hog.
To keep battery life at a stated 10 hours Apple included a battery in the iPad 3 that has a capacity some 70% greater than that of the iPad 2. The increase in capacity also brought a modest change in thickness causing Apple to make the iPad marginally thicker, not a decision taken lightly by a company who consistently shrinks products.
Believe it or not I don’t want to talk about the iPad though. The next model is roughly a year away and is likely to be a modest update compared to the current iPad. Apple will most likely be able to make the iPad thinner, lighter and still increase battery life.
What is interesting is how Apple is innovating with battery life and how this technology has slowly seeped into its other products but not anywhere near the same degree as it has with the iPad. Apple first talked about batteries during the Macworld 2009 keynote. Having released the original MacBook Air and the 13- and 15-inch unibody MacBook Pro’s the year before all that was left to complete the lineup was a 17-inch model, in addition to talking about the benefits of the unibody enclosure Apple took a portion of the keynote to talk about battery technology.
The special video that Apple made for that keynote can be seen on YouTube, the engineers who are responsible for the innovations in Apple’s battery speak about three main areas: advanced chemistry, intelligent monitoring, and adaptive charging.
Don’t get me wrong, the last two in that list are important. They’ve allowed Apple to increase the environmental credentials of its portable devices by putting in batteries that’ll keep their life for longer and more accurate reporting of battery life stops users getting caught short.
When talking about advanced battery chemistry Bob Mansfield who was at the time in charge of Mac hardware (now SVP of all hardware engineering) speaks of teams of people within Apple specifically tasked with advancing the batteries in Apple’s products. The changes to the batteries discussed in the video is I’m sure only a small part of the story in making more efficient and bigger batteries. I’m no chemist but the changes are evident and accelerating.
Battery life on Apple’s notebooks has in recent years gone up marginally, from 5 hours in 2006 to 7 hours or more on the most recent notebooks (At Macworld 2009 Phil Schiller quoted the 17-inch MacBook Pro as having a 60% more battery life increase from the previous model). Doesn’t sound impressive but CPUs have got faster, displays have got brighter and the notebooks have got smaller. This innovation has unfortunately seen us moving towards a range of notebooks where the batteries cannot be removed.
The changes coming down the line to Apple’s notebook line are predictable, this year we’ll most likely see higher resolution and better lit displays. External media drives will begin to be phased out and the inclusion of more efficient CPUs, GPUs and SSD drives will aid in bring the power usage of notebooks down. All this means longer battery life but with Apple’s obvious efforts in packing more juice into a battery we could see Apple’s notebook battery life reach the dizzying heights of 15-18 hours.
Beyond the iPad and Apple’s notebooks we’ve got the iPhone which this year will face its toughest battery challenge yet. In 2007 when Apple announced the iPhone it lacked 3G connectivity, something that every other phone on the market had. Apple blamed such a move on the technology being a battery hog and with that huge (for the time) 3.5-inch display it was not a compromise Apple was willing to make.
Apple is now moving towards including LTE in the iPhone and with the iPad already on board it looks like the iPhone will follow suit but can Apple squeeze a battery with 70% more capacity in the iPhone like it did with this years iPad? Only time will tell and with iPads now in the hands of testers we’re getting a taste of how hungry that LTE chipset is. Some preliminary testing shows that Qualcomm’s MDM9600 LTE chip isn’t as power hungry as originally thought and a lot of the battery drain is down to the display.