Although the autonomy of mobile computing devices has improved in the last decade, the gains are mostly through advancements in microprocessor and display technologies. Batteries themselves have remained largely unchanged in recent years, and while we hear about breakthrough technologies on the horizon time and time again, there’s still no viable mass market alternative to lithium-ion batteries and the way we charge them.
According to the New York Times, Apple is exploring ways to get around this constraint through new charging methods for its hardware, and may be building some of these alternatives into its rumored iWatch.
Specifically, the company has been testing magnetic induction, solar power, and charging via movement -- none of which are new technologies but if implemented right, or perhaps combined, could considerably extend battery life and make smart watches (and other electronic devices) less of a hassle to own.
According to the report, wireless charging via magnetic induction would work similar to the Qi-based charging pads that Nokia and others have used for their phones. Another experiment at Apple has involved charging the battery through movement while wearing the device, a method that’s is already used in many modern watches. Lastly, solar charging has also been used in wristwatches before, including on Casio’s popular G-Shock range, but Apple’s solution involves adding a solar-charging layer to the iWatch’s purported curved glass screen.
These are all reportedly still on prototype stage so it isn’t clear which, if any, of the charging features will make their way into the iWatch or other Apple products. The New York Times points to a number of recently hired engineers at Apple with expertise in battery design and power technology, but notes that the experiments being conducted are still years from becoming a reality. This is in line with the latest iWatch rumors suggesting Apple was struggling to make a number of components and would push back the release of such a product.
Aside from Apple, The New York Times mentions other battery-centric efforts across the industry, from big players like Samsung designing curved batteries that can be installed inside wristbands, to uBeam, a Mountain View startup backed by prominent Silicon Valley investors that wants to pull energy from the air.
iWatch concept image by Todd Hamilton