The one must-have iWatch feature

It doesn't matter how many leading-edge sensors it has or how beautiful and stylish it is. If the iWatch doesn't get power right it will fail. Here's two Apple technologies that will set the iWatch apart from competitors.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

Wearable technology comes with a hard requirement: it has to work all the time. Otherwise, why wear it?

If the iWatch is going to become an indispensible part of everyday life, it has to function without fuss or bother. Think of all the attention paid to watch power. Self-winding watches. Electric watches. Solar powered watches.

This seems out of proportion to how easy it is to wind a watch. But if you forget, you can't tell time when you want to. And you're carrying a reminder on your wrist that you forgot to wind it.

Adds insult to injury.

Ideally, the iWatch will have a 72-hour battery life. Put it down over a long weekend and it will still function when you put it back on. 

There's two ways to solve the problem: reduce energy consumption; and/or increase energy production. Let's save energy production for a future post.

Power budget

In the last year Apple has purchased at least two companies specializing in low-power components. Last year Apple bought Passif Semiconductor, which specialized in low-power wireless transceivers. Radios are energy hogs, so this is obvious.

Less obvious is Apple's acquisition of LuxVue earlier this year, a developer of an active matrix emissive micro LED display panel. Its big advantage is low power consumption, while also offering - reportedly - excellent brightness and contrast.

How low? From a LuxVue patent application:

The micro LED devices are highly efficient at light emission and consume very little power (e.g., 250 mW for a 10 inch diagonal display) compared to 5-10 watts for a 10 inch diagonal LCD or OLED display, enabling reduction of power consumption of the display panel.

That's right: as little as 2.5 percent of today's panel power budget, even at Retina display pixel densities. Another plus: the display can be printed on a flexible substrate.

Displays use more power than radios, so this is huge. Imagine what these could do for the iWatch, let alone the iPad and MacBook Air.

The Storage Bits take

These aren't the only power-sipping technologies. The recent work on sub-threshold circuitry and back-scatter radio transmission promise orders-of-magnitude improvements in those areas.

But the two companies that Apple has purchased promise fundamental and hard-to-replicate advantages over its less profitable competitors for the next 3-5 years. Only Apple and maybe Samsung can afford to invest a billion dollars or more in a promising technology to take it from the lab to mass production.

LuxVue's patents mean even Samsung would have problems quickly copying their functionality. For the rest of us this is all good. As the mobile computing revolution grows, we can't be changing batteries all day.

Comments welcome, as always. I wrote an earlier post - What wearable tech's past says about Apple's iWatch - a couple of months ago to explore it's likely functional areas. Wearable tech has a longer history then you may think.

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