Will the iPhone improve your laptop’s battery life?

Apple launched it’s much-hyped iPhone in the U.S. last Friday, adding pressure to the mobile device market. Apple is claiming eight hours of talk time on its smart phone, leaving its competition in the dust. While not available in Canada yet, there’s already talk of how the iPhone could shake up the market.

“Users are confirming that Apple’s claims of significant talk time and Web browsing time are indeed legitimate,” said Michael Gartenberg, vice-president and research director with Jupiter Research in New York.

Smart phones offer additional features, but those features use up battery life and ultimately reduce the most important feature, which is talk time, he said. Apple’s extended battery life justifies its higher price point for delivering a different user experience, and also puts pressure on other vendors to match Apple in terms of delivering the same type of performance.

Cell phones and laptops have different usage models, however, so it’s unclear whether the same battery innovations will find their way into Apple’s laptops. But the ability to offer all-day functionality is a big differentiator, said Gartenberg, and something we’re no doubt going to hear more of from both Apple and its competitors.

The fact that the iPhone has a non-removable battery means that Apple could add as much physical battery to the unit as possible, while still keeping it thin. Apple also optimized its software and drivers – for example, when to dim the display, or when to turn off WiFi. “All of these things are a balance that add up to battery life,” he said. “There are no secrets here but there is an attention to detail.”

The question will be whether users are turned off by the idea of a non-removable battery. Gartenberg doesn’t believe it will be an issue, since today’s smart phones don’t have enough capacity to get through the day, and users usually need to add an extended battery or carry multiple batteries.

“Given Apple’s battery life on this device, that will be less of an issue,” he said. Apple has also said it will have replacements available at Apple stores.

If Apple is able to take this battery technology to the next level, we could start to see a change or shift on the notebook side or with handhelds that have larger screens, said Michelle Warren, senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group in Toronto.

“Some vendors are waiting to see how this product will be adopted,” she said. Apple is going to market in the U.S. with AT&T as its sole service provider, with a US$500-US$600 price tag for the phone, plus an average cost of about US$80-$120 per month to sign up.

“I’m not sure any other vendor could build that kind of a buzz,” she said. “It’s almost in a league of its own, like the BlackBerry. The rest of the population could probably wait for a product from Motorola or Samsung or LG with similar features at a lesser price point.”

In the consumer market, battery life isn’t a huge consideration when choosing a phone, and even less so in the business market. According to research from IDC Canada, consumers rate battery life as their fourth criteria when selecting a phone. Ease of use ranked number one, followed by design and appearance, then size and weight.

In the commercial segment, battery life didn’t even make the top 10, coming in at 14, said Marc Perrella, vice-president of the technology group with IDC Canada. This is because there are other considerations in a commercial environment associated with getting the information needed, when needed. For example, does it have push e-mail capabilities? How does it integrate with the company’s existing platform? Do employees have access to the applications they need?

“There’s more of a criticality to using a mobile device in a commercial environment because the whole intent is to make your staff more productive,” he said.
In Apple’s current iPhone offering, users have to download music or content off of a PC; they can’t download anything over the carrier’s network – yet. So this could create greater sales for the Mac. “There was definitely a halo effect with the iPod launch and then their PCs, but they also did other things in their PCs,” said Perrella.

“They went to an Intel platform, there’s the design.”

So extended battery life may not be the be-all end-all feature, but it will improve the user experience. “It goes beyond cell phones or smart phones,” he said. “Mobile end points are getting smaller and are wireless-enabled, so you’ve got to look at the whole power management system and how you can make that as efficient as possible.”

Three or four years down the road, users are going to want to upgrade their phones, so upgrading the battery will not be a big deal, said Gartenberg. As for other vendors, they’ll be under more pressure to keep up with Apple.

“But most of the other vendors want to make sure, before they announce anything at this point, that Apple’s never-ending news cycle ends.”

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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