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Battery Life, the Apple Watch and the Internet of Things


Batteries have hit a plateau. And, it's holding back our entire industry. For most of us it’s hard to remember that a long time ago it was normal to charge your phone every few days. With smartphones that's changed.

Today, it’s fairly common to carry an external battery pack and a charging cord for your phone. If you’re attached to your device, part of your bedtime routine likely includes charging your external battery pack too. Everyone is investing in improving battery storage capacity. I’ve been waiting anxiously for my Battery Box which should let me double my MacBook Air’s battery life. Even when no hardware officially changed between the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 5C, Apple still managed to increase the battery size and improve battery life in the iPhone 5C.

The Apple Watch

With the Apple Watch, battery life is at an even a higher premium. Apple has intentionally been unclear about the battery life because they’re still improving it. With most Apple OS releases, they don’t optimize battery life until the dot-1 release.

The Apple Watch battery life will never reach a level I’m happy with in the first model, so just working isn’t good enough. Apple has factored battery life into every decision for the software. Look no further than the recommended color scheme: black background blends seamlessly with the device bezel and maintains the illusion of there being no screen edges. Avoid bright background colors in your interface to preserve battery.

The Apple Watch is reported to use an AMOLED screen. This means that black pixels are more energy efficient than white pixels. This requirement, a stark contrast to Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines for iOS 8 and Yosemite, is clearly designed to ensure optimal energy efficiency.

There are very strict controls over what an app can do on the Apple Watch when active and inactive. Just like when the iPhone first launched without multitasking, and initially you couldn’t do things as simple as play music in the background if it wasn’t from the iPod app, the Apple Watch blocks most background functions.

Glances and notifications are the two primary ways to share information with the user. They are designed to be easy to consume and display static content. The Apple Watch won’t even let you render animations live on your phone to transmit over Bluetooth.

The sole data connection between your Apple Watch and the internet is through your phone and its apps. I would love to have a WiFi connection on my watch or GPS so that it could function without my phone, but that just isn’t energy efficient. While I wouldn’t want my Apple Watch to have its own data connection, it would be wonderful to leave my phone on my desk and stay connected throughout my home, at work, and at the gym. Wouldn’t it be cool if all the approved WiFi networks on your iPhone automatically worked for your Apple Watch too?

I fully expect this to improve over the next few year. We’ll see major improvements in the second version of the Apple Watch’s OS (likely releasing in the summer) and with future hardware updates. But, don’t hold your breath for Wifi or GPS anytime soon, I don’t expect this until at least 2018 when the chips are small enough and the battery life is there to support it.

Internet of Things and a Look to the Future

This same limitation plagues the world of the Internet of things (IoT). The only IoT devices with a constant data connection are connected directly to power. Devices like Nest, Hue, and Smart TVs are always plugged in. Popular battery powered devices including Fitbit, Withings, and drones all connect infrequently or on demand. Most people don’t realize it, but your Fitbit only reports activity every fifteen minutes.

Even early IoT devices such as speakers, where weight was never a primary concern only lasted for a few hours. This is one of the major roadblocks to creating a connected home. If you aren’t building from scratch or remodeling your home, you’ll have wires everywhere.

Only when we solve the battery life plateau, we’ll finally have drones that can fly for hours, maybe even days, and the connected home will become a reality. In my mind, battery life is crucial to boosting the adoption of an Internet of Things that can be truly wirelessly connected and bring everyday value to the masses.

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