Time for a CES power play

3 January 2015 by Steve Blum

As good as it gets.

The limits of mobile devices – convenience and capability – are set by battery life and the means to recharge. Top of my scouting list for the coming week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is genuinely innovative power sources.

Wearables have moved from the novelty accessory category to mainstream product line status, ensuring CES will be packed with cool new gizmos. But with tiny batteries, designers have to work within tight performance and feature constraints, and ultimately rely on another device, usually a mobile phone, for connectivity. Users have to deal with one-more-thing-to-recharge-at-night fatigue – I’d be interested to know how many electronic wristbands end up on the Island of Unwanted Toys simply because the wearer forgot to put it back on one morning.

Mobile phones are, of course, still a huge category. But the rate of growth is decreasing, in part because year to year improvements are coming in smaller and smaller increments. There are a lot of reasons for it, but one of the primary causes is that apps and services that consume a lot of power are off limits for most.

The only way to break out of the box is to harness new energy sources.

Standardised induction charging is a no brainer, and I’m expecting to see at least a glimmer of hope at CES. There’s no reason charging pads can’t be as fungible as USB cables. The next step in that direction is passive rechargers that can be built into, say, computer keyboards or mattress pads and will top up your wristband without even thinking about it.

There are other possibilities too: capturing body heat or arm movement (auto-winding wristwatches are ancient twentieth century tech), for example. And there’s always the possibility of truly revolutionary technology that will jolt energy storage off its gently sloping linear improvement curve. That might be too much to hope for in Las Vegas this year, but it’s worth keeping your eyes open anyway.