If your iPhone battery has you seeing red more often than green, you'll love what may be coming in the iPhone 5. The US Patent Office granted Apple a new patent yesterday for a technology that could potentially extend the life of the next iPhone batteries for months, if not longer.
How does it work? If you've see one of those flashlights you can charge by shaking, you get the concept. In the flashlight, a movable magnet passes through a wire coil and generates electricity, which is used to recharge the batteries. The technique is called "induction charging".
The problem with using the technology in mobile devices has been bulk. As Apple says in the patent,
"To achieve meaningful output power, a traditional system typically includes thick coils of wire that add to the system's overall size. Moreover, the wire coils and magnet of a traditional system are often housed in an inefficient manner that further adds to the system's overall size."
Apple solved the problem by creating an ultra-thin "printed" version of the usual wire coil. Small magnets will slide past the coil when a user moves the device or walks, creating a current, and recharging the phone. While it's unknown what the impact will be on battery life, it's likely to be significant.
The patent is important for a few reasons:
1. Users are engaging with their phones more than ever, and battery life will become even more important than it is already. It's possible the iPhone 5 will use the technology to get a huge jump on phones like the Razr Maxx, which currently boasts use time that far exceeds the iPhone 4s. But whenever it is released, the technology will dramatically bolster Apple's market position.
2. When the technology is released, it will have dramatic impacts on mobile hardware and software development. Phones will able to use powerful (but power-hungry) components that have previously been off-limits. Developers will be able to take advantage of that new power, and can develop apps with less concern about battery life issues that may have constrained them before.
Developers who start thinking about how to take advantage of this new technology now will be in the best position to take advantage of it when it reaches the market.