Why the Smartphone is the New Ball & Chain!

About ten years ago, I had this lovely little silver device that fit in the palm of my hand and I remember thinking, "mobile devices can’t get much better than this." I could talk for hours and hours and send text messages when I couldn’t talk. Ok, so I couldn't check my email or browse the web, but who cared ten years ago? And best of all, I could charge up and go for days without the need to plug in. I was free. The untethered dream had been realized. Little did I know, the smartphone was coming—and that it was going to be the end of my untethered dream.

A few years later, I saw the first iPhone. It was as if someone had built a time machine, gone to the future, and brought it back. What I didn’t realize was that I was witnessing the start of a mobile computing arms race and that the biggest casualty of the race would be battery life.

Today, smartphones have taken over. According to ABI Research, smartphone shipments overtook feature phone shipments mid-way through 2013. As a result, data traffic is up more than 6x over the past 5 years. The key enabler of this continuing explosion in data traffic is increasingly powerful mobile chipsets at the heart of the smartphone. Looking back at the smartphone evolution; clear trends emerge. First, average smartphone processor speeds are up nearly 5x since the launch of the iPhone in 2007. At the same time, the single core devices commonly seen in 2007 have transitioned to dual and quad-core configurations in 2014. The result is that processing power has grown at an astonishing rate of 36% per year from 2007-2014.

As if an explosion in processing power wasn’t enough of a challenge, screen sizes have doubled to an average of 4.4 inches, leading to a 4x increase in screen area since 2007. The net result is that devices are more power hungry than ever before. Sadly, during the same period, average battery capacity has barely doubled!

These days I have a lovely shiny black device that fits nicely in my hand although it’s noticeably larger than my little silver device from ten years ago. And of course, it does so much more: I can watch Keanu Reeves dodge bullets while waiting at the airport, play word games with my wife across a continent, and video chat with my daughter at bedtime no matter where I am. 

But like many, I’m not really untethered anymore. I’m constantly checking my battery life. Perish the thought I should forget to charge my device the night before I go to work or take a trip! Invariably, I find myself needing to plug in at least once a day—if not more. I don’t have that sense of freedom anymore. As much as I appreciate my phone, sometimes it feels like a ball and chain, always whispering to me: “don’t get too far away from an outlet.”

See what Spirent is doing about the growing battery life issue in our joint On-Demand ABI/Spirent webinar: “The 4G Battery Life Challenge: Improving Device Power Efficiency”.

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