It’s one of life’s distinct annoyances: Pulling out your phone – or music player, tablet or laptop – and being greeted with an unexpectedly silent, black screen. Dead battery. The red panic light counting down the minutes to a dead battery is also its own brand of terrible, with the panicked map searches, hurried emails and machine gun texts as you chase the last bit of power out of your device.
Can we just cut the cords yet?
Think about the leaps and bounds we’ve made in smartphone technology in the five years since the iPhone was first introduced: Edge, then 3G, then 4G; high-resolution cameras; GPS and location-based services. You know what hasn’t changed one bit? Battery life. When I got my first smartphone, the T-Mobile G1, in late 2008, the battery lasted just about one work day – maybe 10 hours. Today, four years later, my T-Mobile G2 lasts … just about one work day – maybe 10 hours. Granted, today’s phones do a lot more on the same charge, but that quantum leap in battery technology just isn’t there.
This problem is much more acute for mobile workers. For service techs in the field, a forgotten cord can severely restrict production, especially if they’re using a device that’s a bit older and gets used heavily so the battery is a bit degraded. It’s amazing that the only solution is either a cord or a cumbersome battery attachment.
There are solutions around the corner. There’s a ton of charging pads on the market for phones. Just set your device down on them and it charges without having to plug it in. The charging pad has to be plugged in, of course, but consider applying this technology to something with a portable power source, like, say a car or service van. Thinking about it, it’s almost baffling that new cars don’t come standard with wireless charging-enabled docks. Set your phone down, turn on bluetooth and voila, you have a streaming music player and phone that never loses its charge. Why hasn’t that happened?
The short answer is competition. Samsung, Qualcomm and Powermat Technologies, announced an industry standard for wireless charging last week called A4WP, which aims to create a standard technology for wireless charging. That’s good! Well, except that there’s another standard, the Wireless Power Consortium, that has been around since 2008, has about 100 members – including, oddly enough, Samsung and Powermat – and backs a different standard.
GigaOm’s Kevin Tofel correctly points out that this leaves consumers with a pointlessly fragmented market that blocks progress.
Either way, more groups trying to do the same basic thing is bad for everyone. There’s a reason we use standards for communications, wireless networks and even electricity. Trying to break out different ways to wirelessly supply electricity to a nearby device only fragments the products and confuses both the market and consumers.
And this doesn’t even take in to account what will happen if Apple ever develops wireless chargers for its devices. Innovative as the company may be, the fact that we still use those ridiculous, massive 30-pin cords to charge our i-devices points to the reality that it doesn’t play well with others, consumers be damned.
So, until the market dukes it out for superiority, consumers are left with Betamax vs. VHS, Blue-Ray vs. HD DVD, and Firewire vs. USB. It’ll get sorted out, it always does, but it’ll cost the market a few precious years, and field techs, mobile workers, you and I dozens more headaches and harried searches before our phones die at 7 p.m.