On the brink of acceptable battery life in mobile

Summary:A perfect storm of hardware evolution and software improvement have mobile devices providing longer time away from an outlet than ever.

Android battery
(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet

If you are like most folks, you remember how you had to structure your day around keeping your mobile gear running away from the power outlet.

Phones were likely to start running empty long before day's end. Laptops had to be topped off at an outlet at some point during the day to have any chance of lasting long enough. Even the newest member of the mobile family, the tablet, could start coughing before being put to bed.

That's all changing rapidly, and it won't be long until mobile device users will not even think about the time remaining on the battery.

We are on the brink of having acceptable battery life on almost all mobile devices, and we've gotten there in just the last couple of years. This improvement is the result of a number of advancements that work together to make gadgets run longer. While battery technology has improved incrementally over the years, it hasn't improved enough to deliver this advancement on its own.

It's largely hardware improvement that plays a great role in keeping gadgetry running for long hours. Processors used in mobile devices, Intel and ARM in particular, have gotten good at gently sipping from the power trough. Plus, the switch from moving hard disks to low power flash memory has factored heavily into the overall reduced power requirements of most mobile devices.

The Intel Haswell chipsets should make a big push to longer battery life. This will have a tremendous impact on both laptops and tablets.

Software has factored into the improved battery situation too, as platform developers have learned how to make operating systems with a lesser impact on power consumption. Programs running all the time in the background have especially improved to keep power usage down to a minimum.

Processors used in mobile devices, Intel and ARM in particular, have gotten good at gently sipping from the power trough.

The improvement in hardware and software in the mobile space have worked together to greatly reduce the load on the small batteries tucked inside gadgets. This goes hand in hand with device makers that have developed manufacturing techniques eliminating the use of brick type batteries, in favor of free form cells that can be fitted to the sealed casing now in favor. This allows cramming the biggest battery possible in any given gadget.

Extended battery life is quite noticeable in tablets, with many models offering 10 hours or more on a charge. This allows even the heaviest user to get through a whole day without the need to carry the power adapter.

This is significant as tablets are awkward to use while plugged into the wall.

Phones have historically been the worst mobile devices as far as battery life is concerned. It wasn't that long ago that it was almost impossible to get through a full day without either using extra batteries or plugging the phone in to charge. Car charging adapters were in virtually everybody's car.

That's not the case anymore, as most phones can go all day on a charge. Days of unusually heavy usage might stretch it to the limit, but most of the time it's all day performance.

Laptops might be the most improved category of mobile device when it comes to battery life. Most probably remember when three hours of heavy usage could drain a laptop dry. Getting through an entire day wasn't a consideration for the laptop; work days were planned around having an outlet nearby at some point.

All of that is a thing of the past with mobile gear. Tablets last 10-12 hours, phones pretty much all day, and laptops approaching 10 hours of constant usage on a charge. It might not be all day battery life but it's darn close. With just a little additional improvement we should soon see all mobile device owners leaving the power adapters behind, without giving it a second thought.

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Topics: Mobility, Laptops, Smartphones, Tablets

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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