The Most Important Android Development of 2012

We’re about to enter a new era of powerful smartphones. In 2012 nearly every major Android handset manufacturer has planned at least one handset powered by a quad-core processor. ZTE has the Era; HTC has the One X; LG has the Optimus 4X; Motorola has the Atrix 3; Samsung has the Exynos; even Fujitsu has a quad-core Android handset planned. These won’t be the only quad-core offerings from these manufacturers. They’re just the beginning. While the further development of pocket-sized computers is an exciting one, it’s missing one key element. We need more efficient ways to keep power flowing to them.

The smartphone battery issue

Can you last a full day with your Android handset? If so, you’re among the lucky ones. Heavy users will find that their Android handset batteries dwindle rapidly, eventually discharging before a full day’s work is complete. How widespread is this issue? It was enough for Motorola to not only create a handset focused specifically on battery life, but to run a rather expensive marketing campaign around it.

Both quad-core processors and 4G LTE networks were developed with an eye on improving smartphone performance. But if we can’t get a full day’s use out of the battery, those improvements appear moot. Eventually manufacturers will have to put aside their pursuits of processor and network performance and focus on battery life.

Current battery extenders

The Droid RAZR MAXX currently boasts the longest-lasting battery in the business. That was Motorola’s goal with the handset, so we can say job well done. But it’s not as though Motorola developed a breakthrough in energy efficiency technology. The secret of the RAZR MAXX: it simply employs a larger battery. This is to some degree a temporary holdover for Android users, even ones not using the MAXX.

Nearly every Android handset has available an extended-life battery. This is a special battery that is, unsurprisingly, larger than a normal battery. It requires a custom battery door and, in many cases, a special case. The downside is pretty obvious: enlarging a smartphone takes away one of its major advantages. It’s harder to store, and a bulkier smartphone is more difficult to use.

Some Android users carry around a spare battery in case they need extra juice. This keeps the smartphone in its natural, thin state, but also has a few disadvantages. The first downside comes when you have to swap the batteries, which requires a reboot. Additionally, users have to purchase a special charger that will not only recharge the handset, but also a separate battery.

Future battery developments

While faster processors and more vibrant displays will certainly entice consumers, eventually these power-consuming upgrades will hit a wall. How much faster can phones run and how many more pixels can they display without completely compromising battery life? It might not be the sexiest improvement, but battery life will have to become a serious consideration for manufacturers in the future.

Other smartphone entities can help participate in lengthening battery life. A recent study showed that free apps consumed significantly more battery then their paid counterparts, primarily because of the ads that the free apps serve. The software that delivers the apps is apparently inefficient, leading to disproportionate battery draining. Developers, then, have means to help extend our battery lives.

Whatever the methods. developers and manufacturers need to work — both together and independently — to help extend the lives of our phones. The technology itself, lithium-ion, is in all likelihood here to stay. It’s used for electric cars and other high-powered products. The key, then, is to find out how to use it more efficiently, so that smartphones can continue on their evolutionary track. Poor battery performance can be one major roadblock to future developments.

Joe Pawlikowski writes at technology at several sites across the web and is a vocal advocate of improving the energy efficiency of batteries.

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