Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Battery Life and the Future of the Tablet PC

Despite all the new tablets rushing to the market these days, to me there remain only a handful of features that truly are “must-have”. One of those is a decent battery life.

Battery life in particular is a big point of contention for any new product on the market because it can define the usefulness of that device. When Apple released the iPad earlier this year, it was no surprise that it touted nearly 10 hours of battery life under heavy use. Apple has long been focused on making sure their gadgets last longer for their users (to the detriment of functionality in many cases).

Yet, while many people like to compare the world of tablet PCs to Apple, keep in mind that Apple has long been highly controlling of their devices. If a battery fails in an iPad or iPhone, you can't swap it out for a new one – you must send it to Apple and wait for a replacement.

This is one of the harsh truths about tablet computing – for the device to be small and light enough to be truly functional outside of the office it often has a sealed compartment, making expansion with a new battery nearly impossible.

Some devices have gone against the grain of compartmentalizing, allowing third parties to release larger batteries to power them longer. The Dell Streak, for example, never had the greatest battery life, yet because the batteries can be swapped with relative ease, Mugen Power is able to offer 1800mAh and 4800mAh options as replacements. But, for many new devices, it’s just not a viable option.

As the “tablet wars” heat up, I think it's important to note just how vital the battery issue is going to become. Most of this will lie in the development of battery technology. Right now, it feels like we’re approaching a brick wall – one where battery power can only be improved with larger, heavier batteries.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been much talk of fuel powered batteries or solar power use in  consumer devices, but it hasn’t progressed nearly far enough to make up for the advancement of other technologies.

It worries me that despite superior technical abilities and enterprise focus, a device without superior battery power might suffer on the market. The point of a tablet PC is mobility – and yet to get that mobility, devices like the iPad are being hobbled severely for their users. The iPad specifically cuts out external ports, limits OS features and only allows single task processing because anything more would severely cut down on that magic battery life number. Other devices want to offer more, and as a result, they suffer.

Don't get me wrong – I’m hoping that in a few years, this argument won’t matter as much – the same way that hard disk storage and camera megapixels eventually grew so powerful consumers could look to other features. But, the technology has a ways to go yet. The hunt is on for a better battery – one that can transform mobile computing into a powerful, long term replacement for the plugged in desktop. Here’s hoping it’s soon.

If you’re interested in this topic, which has been of great interest to me for many years, I’m working on a Report that will outline some practical tips on battery life optimisation. I should also have some documents finished soon that will outline what you can truly expect from a tablet PC in terms of battery life. I’m hoping to share these with everyone soon!


Rik Carton said...

Hi Hugo,

That sounds interesting. I am curious to see if you will be naming specific tablets.

I currently own an iPad (which was a present from my employer) and will be buying an Android tablet, but generally do not pay much attention to "estimated" battery life. I have high hopes for the Notion Ink Adam with a Pixel Qi display...

Hugo Gaston Ortega said...

Thanks Rik for the comment. Like you I have my preferred Tablet and with regard to battery life the Vilix X70 and Viliv S10 stand out. Android is still untested with battery consumption on bigger Tabets but the Viliv X10 and TEGA v2 look like good options.

Rik Carton said...

Cheers; I will check their specs!

Hugo Gaston Ortega said...

No worries Rik, pop back anytime.