Powering Our Mobile Future
Part 2: User Experience, Functionality, and Consumer Satisfaction
The equation below shows the relationship between battery capacity (supply) and consumer satisfaction (demand). The first post in this series examined the role of battery life in consumers’ satisfaction with their mobile devices. This post examines user experience and functionality.
User Experience & Functionality
The functionality of popular mobile devices, including smartphones and smartwatches, has increased significantly over the past decade. The most common functional elements are hardware components (CPU, GPU, display, etc.), signalling modules for connectivity (Wi-Fi, cellular network, Bluetooth, and GPS), software (operating system and applications), and consumer usage patterns (calling, texting, gaming, taking photos and videos, music and video playback, etc.).
Today, the CPU and GPU, display, signalling modules (connectivity), and applications such as gaming and video playback consume the majority of the battery’s energy in a mobile device. However, emerging technologies that promise a better user experience and increased functionality will place an even heavier burden on the battery.
For example, 5G cellular networks promise an improved user experience due to much faster data transmission and lower latency. It will also increase network capacity and relieve the pressure on loaded 4G networks. 5G adoption is projected to be the fastest ever for a new wireless generation, generating six times more unit shipments than previous record holder LTE, over a similar timeframe.
But there will initially be a price to pay in battery life. Global testers from c|net noticed using 5G on phones like the Moto Z3, Galaxy S10 5G, and LG V50 seemed to tap their battery reserves faster than 4G networks. And 5G smartphones may be larger than 4G models, in part to accommodate larger batteries, yet still suffer from shorter battery life. For example, c|net also reported that “…the [Samsung] S10 5G has a slightly larger screen and battery than the Galaxy S10 Plus (6.7-inch and 4,500 mAh versus 6.1-inch and 4,100 mAh),” but in a test, “The S10 5G [battery life] was on a trajectory to last far less.”
In addition, movement of AI from the cloud, where it has traditionally been deployed, to smart devices will improve functionality and user experience. The computation power of AI algorithms has increased 300,000 times between 2012 and 2019 — doubling every three-and-a-half months. The cloud has been a logical place for AI because it provides massively scaled computational power and very cheap memory and storage.
But cloud-based AI has its issues, including latency — as data moves to the cloud for processing and the results are transmitted back over the network to a mobile device — and data security. On-device AI results in faster performance and response time, lower latency and improved security by retaining data on the device. Gartner predicts that by 2022, 80% of smartphones shipped will have on-device AI capabilities, up from 10% in 2017. But on-device AI will compete with the CPU, GPU, and display for battery life in mobile devices.
The technology with the greatest potential for major market disruption over the next decade is augmented reality (AR). The AR market is projected to grow from under $3.5 billion (US) in 2017 to over $192 billion in 2025. According to Apple CEO, Tim Cook, AR represents a major new mobile platform. “I regard it as a big idea like the smartphone. I think AR is that big, it’s huge.” Apple is not the only company that thinks AR is huge. According to The Information, Facebook, Microsoft, and Snap have major development programs. If companies can make the technology reliable and lightweight enough, AR could eventually replace smartphones as the primary mobile platform.
For this to occur, AR glasses must get smaller, lighter, and more powerful. The lenses that display digital imagery and information in front of people’s eyes will need to be high quality while also sufficiently small for a comfortable fit. Broad access to fast 5G mobile networks is considered a critical enabling technology for AR to grow its presence in both consumer and industrial markets. And Li-ion batteries will need to provide more energy capacity in a small-size, lightweight format. Most reports indicate that AR glasses meeting these requirements may be available in 2022 or, more likely, in 2023.
User experience, functionality, and battery life are the demand side of the equation. Collectively, they are the elements that determine consumer satisfaction. Battery capacity is the supply side of the equation. As mobile devices continue to become smaller to fit wearable formats, increased battery capacity is essential.
In the next post, we’ll examine the battery capacity side of the consumer satisfaction equation. If you would rather not wait, download and read our white paper, “The Value of a Step-Change Increase in Battery Energy Density for Consumer Mobile Device Satisfaction.”