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How Can You Increase Smartphone Battery

Life?
BY RHETT ALLAIN 09.16.14 | 8:34 AM | PERMALINK
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Image: Rhett Allain

Smartphones arent really phones. They are small personal computers that you can carry
around with you. They just happen to also make phone calls but thats not what most people
use them for. Yes, these tiny computers are awesome and useful but there is a downside. The
battery life is terrible. The only way I can make it through a day without an extra charge is to
just not use the phone.
Possibly the two things people want in a new phone are better battery life and a better camera.
But how could the battery life of a phone get better? There are only a few things that could
change. Let me go over the options.

Bigger Batteries
Suppose your phone runs for 5 hours if you are continuously using it. How could you make it

run for a longer time? You could put in a bigger capacity battery. Before the iPhone 6, all the
previous iPhones had about a 1500 mAh lithium-ion battery. What is mAh? This is short for
milli-Amp hours. So a 1 mAh battery could produce 1 milliamp of current for 1 hour. Yes, its a
measure of the energy stored in the battery. You can find out exactly how much energy if you
know the battery voltage. For the iPhone 5s, it has a 1570 mAh battery with a voltage of 3.8
Volts. If you know the voltage and the current then the power and energy would be:
If I know the current in milliamps and the time in hours, I can use this to get the following
expression for the energy in a battery (in Joules). Here is how you would do that calculation for
the energy in the iPhone 5s battery.

Ok, that seems like a large amount of energy but maybe its not enough (well, its not enough for
me). What if you put a bigger battery in the phone? Wouldnt a 3,000 mAh battery last about
twice as long? Yes, I think it probably would. However, theres a problem. If you use the same
kind of battery it would be about twice as large and twice as heavy. It might not be exactly twice
the size since a larger battery can have a smaller percent of size devoted to the outer cover and
other required components but you get the idea.
There is one way to deal with a bigger battery that doesnt make everyone hate the phone
make a bigger phone. If you have a larger phone, some things dont change size like the
processor and the camera. Sure, the screen gets bigger (and uses more energy) but you can still
put a larger battery in there. Look at the iPads. They are much larger than an iPhone and they
seem to have fairly decent battery life. Maybe the iPhone 6 Plus will have super awesome
battery life (Apple claims it will be better). Just to be safe, Apple should send me one so I can
test it.

Higher Battery Energy Density


Just about all phones use lithium-ion battery. These have about 4.32 MJ/L (mega Joules per
liter). Yes, energy density is the energy stored per unit volume. Im not sure why, but it seems
that a common symbol for energy density is u and is defined as:

Its just like mass density except that its for energy. There is also the specific energy. This tells
you the energy per unit mass but Im not too concerned about the mass of my phone (but
volume is important).
Where could you find the energy densities for different storage solutions? Of course Wikipedia
has you covered. Here are some interesting energy densities:
Gasoline = 32.4 MJ/L
Lithium-ion = 0.9-2.63 MJ/L
Lead Acid Battery = 0.34 MJ/L
Sandwich = 10.13 MJ/L (whoever added this to the Wikipedia page is a genius)
Antimatter = 9.266 x 10 104 MJ/L
If you want to keep your phone battery the same size but increase the energy storage, you will
need to find something with a higher energy density. Right now, Lithium-ion is the best we can
do for a battery. It seems safe to bet that in the near future humans could find something in the
5 MJ/L range for a battery, but that will still just bump the battery life up by a factor of 2. Twice
the battery life would be good, but I would like something even more impressive.
A phone that runs on sandwiches would last about 5 times as long as a Lithium-ion powered
phone. Of course you would have a tiny little sandwich in your phone and you would need a tiny
little stomach to go with it. On the downside, you would have to take your phone to the
bathroom at least once a day or deal with it pooping in your pocket (that would be awkward).
Oh, dont forget to feed your phone. It would probably take less time to feed a phone than it
would to recharge a battery.
What about an antimatter powered phone? If you had the same size antimatter battery as in
your current phone, it would last about 10 100 years. Just for comparison, the Universe is most
likely 14 billion (14 x 10 9) years old. Now, dont get all excited. There is still the problem of
taking antimatter annihilation energy and turning it into electricity to run your phone. It would
either require much more space or the radiation might kill you. Still, the phone should at least
run until Apple announces the iPhone 22sd Plus in the year 2034.

More Efficient Phones


What if you keep the phone the same size with the same battery? Can you still make the phone
last longer? Yes. You could make a phone that uses less energy. Maybe the display is more
efficient or maybe the processor is better but either way if a phone uses less energy it will last
longer. I think this is essentially what has happened with some of the newer laptops that have a
10 hour battery life. The batteries in these laptops arent really that much bigger but the
processors are more efficient.

Recharging While You Go


What if the phone was recharging all the time while you were using it? Of course you would
need some type of external power source but maybe that would work. Here are some options.

Recharging by Typing. What if each time you pushed on the phone to type, it turned that into
energy that charged the phone? It seems like a great idea, but I looked at this before it
wouldnt work. You just dont get enough energy from each push to make this method work.

Solar Charging. If your phone had a solar panel all over the case, it could charge from the
sunlight. In a previous post, I looked at the best case for solar charging. If you left the phone
in direct sunlight (and facing the Sun), you could charge it in 4 hours. Thats the best case.
Realistically, this could extend the battery life a little bit.

Charging with Sound. Think of sound waves as oscillations in air pressure (since thats what
they actually are). These changes in air pressure could push on the phone in a very similar way
that your finger pushes on the phone while typing. Are you surprised that I already looked at
this charging method? The best case scenario for charging by sound would take over 100 days to
charge a phone using conversation level noise. Unless you plan on living at a construction site
or at a rock concert, this method is useless.

Kinetic Charging. There are some mechanical watches that dont need to be powered through
winding. Instead there is a mass on a spring inside the watch. Just through the process of
wearing the watch, this mass-spring gets moved around to store energy in the watch. You could
do something similar for electric watches. A magnet moving through a coil of wire can also
generate an electric current. Could this work in a phone? Im going to say no. I looked at this
same idea for smart watches and its just not going to produce enough energy to make a
difference.

Wireless Charging. Wireless charging is already a thing. In fact, the Apple Watch will use
wireless charging. It sounds cool, but its not going to be that helpful for smartphones. I have a
nice summary of the physics involved in wireless charging (inductive charging) but the key
point is that you have to have the device and the charger close to each other. Its not a long
range thing. Wireless charging could make a big impact though. Since it means you dont need a
charging cable, you could have ubiquitous charging. You can put your phone down on the table
or in your car and BOOM its charging. That would be nice.

The Future of Phone Batteries


In the end, I think the best solution is a mixture. If we can make higher energy density batteries
(which we can) and we can make more efficient processor (which we can), the combination of
these two should make a phone that at leasts last through the day. I welcome that phone.