The Power Equation

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If a PDA dies in the forest, does anyone hear it? That is one of the questions that have been boggling the hearts of users everywhere of mobile technology. If the battery doesn’t last, then why; and is there another option?

Probably more so than any other aspect of mobile technology, the power question has been the most critiqued for not keeping up in development with everything else. It used to be that a Palm Vx would get you a good two weeks to a month of usage before needing to be recharged. But just try that with your Dell X50v. If you can make it a week on one charge then you are doing something that the rest of us need to know about.

For PDAs, laptops, and mobile phones, the question of maximizing power requirements with long battery life has been an equation that has not yet been completely solved. For some manufacturers, the idea was to put a smaller or lower resolution screen into the model, and that works with PDAs and phones because the screen is the greatest draw. But still, battery life for these devices is measured in hours and not weeks. Then you have the option that some manufacturers give in making sure that the battery is replaceable so that they can sell you a higher capacity battery. That is a good idea for some, except for the fact that most of the  time, those extra batteries mean that you either have to have a charger in more than one place, or a case for your item that will look good and stay functional with a larger battery in it.

I can recall some years ago that people in the mobile computer industry were all abuzz with thoughts of fuel cells and screens that were not only higher in dots per inch (DPI) but also much more efficient than the current screen technologies like transreflective LCDs (found in just about every PDA). Although the technology for those items has moved and is getting to the point of mass production, there still doesn’t seem to be a solution for the near term that will solve a mobile user’s energy needs.

I found myself this year looking for a solar charger for my fianc ‘s PDA because she was going overseas to an area where she would not have much electricity, but would have a ton of sun. Unfortunately, trying to purchase the tools, and then teach her how they worked would become a bigger frustration than it was worth and the PDA was basically just used until its battery went dry.

When I think of the power equation for mobile devices, I see a problem like the one that I described in the previous paragraph. I see the need for mobile devices in many areas. But the problem is finding an energy source that will keep it powered, and in such a way that someone who is not familiar with needing charging can just work with it and charging is not an issue. I have this dream that one day, PDAs, mobile phones, and laptops will be like the solar powered calculators of just a decade ago; able to work off of battery, sunlight, or florescent light. I even see it being such that the screen (the most power hungry part of mobile devices) would be the tool by which they are charged. But until it becomes a problem for manufacturers (read: making batteries gets too expensive), I don’t see this equation getting any answers.

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