Power boosts beyond battery advances

In the face of slow progress in battery technology, PC makers are increasingly working on device components to extend battery life for laptop users.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

Battery technology is not advancing fast enough to satisfy the portable energy needs of enterprise laptop users, but the industry is making headway in making components more power efficient, say analysts.

Devices such as notebooks and mobile phones have become increasingly powerful in their computing capabilities but the source of power has been a "bottleneck", Bryan Ma, IDC's director for Asia-Pacific personal systems research, said Friday. Rapid battery exhaustion prevents the devices from performing to their full or designed potential, he explained.

To add to that, battery technology has moved "relatively slowly", he pointed out Friday in a phone interview with ZDNet Asia.

Jim Tully, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, also noted in an e-mail interview that the current generation of lithium-based batteries is not developing as fast as what had been observed previously.

Alternative battery technologies such as silver-zinc and micro fuel cells, said Tully, are either "prohibitively expensive" or present concerns in terms of availability and stability.

Added IDC's Ma: "If we assume that battery technology does move a bit more slowly, the other side of that is you can try to optimize what existing battery technology you have today…whether that means using a SSD (solid-state drive) in a notebook or a less power-consuming screen."

Vendors such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard have been highlighting products that have exceptional battery life, he noted, but products with ideal battery performance are still "a niche category", as there are tradeoffs such as price, size and weight. According to Ma, notebooks should ideally last a full business day or more on a single charge.

Still, it is an encouraging sign, he pointed out. "The vendors in the industry all recognize [battery management] as a challenge and they're making efforts to address that. Eventually, we'll start to see a lot of that trickle down into the mainstream."

Moving forward, Gartner's Tully, said the industry will focus on both battery improvements and energy-efficient device components. Increased energy efficiency, he added will "in particular" be derived from solid-state drives (SSDs), and low energy displays such as OLED (organic light-emitting diode) technology.

Netbooks to spur demand for polymer batteries?
Low-cost sub-notebooks or Netbooks may boost demand for lithium ion polymer batteries, according to electronics giant Sony.

In an e-mail to ZDNet Asia, a Sony spokesperson said the company welcomes the increasing number of Netbook models as "we are confident that it will cultivate additional demand" for batteries. Just last month, Sony opened a lithium ion polymer battery plant in Singapore, its first in Southeast Asia.

"Polymer batteries have already been adopted in certain types of notebook PCs, and we expect that Netbook-type models may trigger a new trend in 'polymer for Netbook batteries', taking advantage of [battery characteristics such as] lighter weight, thinner size, and flexible dimensions," he added.

IDC's Ma, however, pointed out that cost could be an issue. Netbooks typically focus on lower cost, which also means less expensive power supplies.

On the other hand, the current user demographic of Netbooks may not be all that cost-conscious, he added. "The reality is, the people who're buying Netbooks right now are…mature market users--the gadget-savvy folks who want a second, third or fourth device.

"That being the case, that type of user segment has much more disposable income than [the Netbook's] initial target audience," said Ma.

Such users, he added, may value size and portability over price and therefore not mind if a smaller or more power-efficient battery is included "at the expense of cost".

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