Smartphones with a 7-day battery life will be here within two years, says fuel-cell maker

smartphone, hydrogen, battery life, fuel-cell, hydrogen power, intelligent energy holdings plc, 7-day battery life

Today’s smartphones may have features we never thought possible many years ago, such as high-speed internet access, biometric scanners, 4K video recording, and even limited VR capabilities, but this all comes at the expense of one area that many older cell phones are fondly-remembered for: battery life.

While plenty of upcoming smartphones are said to have massively improved batteries, such as Samsung’s S7, they still need fairly regular charges, especially with heavy use. But one UK-based company claims that it is developing a system that would allow a smartphone to work for an entire week before requiring a charge.

Intelligent Energy Holdings Plc said its hydrogen-based fuel cell will be small enough to fit inside a smartphone yet powerful enough to keep it running for seven days, and could be available to the public within two years.

The company said that one “emerging” smartphone maker is so impressed with the technology that it’s investing $7.6 million in its development, reports Bloomberg.

“Embedding fuel-cell technology into portable devices provides a solution to the current dilemma of battery life,” Julian Hughes, acting managing director for Intelligent Energy’s Consumer Electronics division, said in a statement. “With consumers demanding more and more from their phones, battery innovation has not kept up.”

Intelligent Energy Holdings Plc has 25 years experience in the energy field and has already worked on a zero-emission, hydrogen-powered black cab in London and a fuel-cell-powered aircraft for Boeing. The technology works by converting hydrogen into electricity, leaving only water as a byproduct.

Last year, the company revealed a prototype iPhone 6 that used hydrogen fuel cells. The only change to the original design was some tiny rear vents so an imperceptible amount of water vapor could escape.

There are still some hurdles to overcome, but should Intelligent Energy Holdings’ technology find its way into commercial smartphones, charging our devices almost every day could become a thing of the past.

Sony announces trio of Xperia X smartphones at MWC 2016

sony, mwc, smartphone, xperia, mac 2016, xperia x, xperia xa, xpreria x performance

Sony has announced three new Xperia phones at MWC 2016 that are set to compete in the all important mid-range segment. Launched as part of the new Xperia X family, the Xperia X, Xperia XA and Xperia X Performance all feature the same premium-feeling construction and rounded glass fronts, with different spec variations under the hood to accommodate for different budgets.

The cheapest of the bunch is the XA with a MediaTek MT6755 processor, 5-inch 720p display, 2,300 mAh battery and 16GB of internal storage. You do get 2GB RAM and 13MP/8MP cameras, though, along a near bezel free design.

The standard Xperia X gets bumped to a Snapdragon 650 processor with 3GB of RAM, 1080 display, 2,700 mAh battery and 32GB of storage, while the X Performance uses Qualcomm’s top-end Snapdragon 820 instead.

The latter two also feature several camera upgrades, including a 13-megapixel front-facing camera and the same 23-megapixel rear camera as in the Z5. But the most interesting new camera feature is something called Predictive Hybrid Autofocus, which Sony claims will be able to track moving objects and predict where they will go, adjusting the focus on the fly to capture fast movement without any blur.

The phones will launch in four colors including white, black, gold and rose gold this summer. Sony did not mention release dates or prices during the event.

The devices formerly known as smartphones

mwc, smartphone, opinion, guest, mwc 2016

Mobile World Congress in Barcelona has served as the location for major smartphone announcements for a long time, so it’s no surprise to see that happening again this year. Splashy introductions have been made by Samsung, LG, Lenovo and other usual suspects.

But there is an important twist for 2016. It stems from the transformation of smartphone-sized devices that has been going on for several years now. In essence, the question boils down to this: when is a smartphone no longer (or not primarily) a smart ”phone”?

For many younger people, arguably that’s been the case for quite some time. We know they essentially use their phones as mobile computing devices and very rarely use the traditional phone features. In fact, in a survey of over 1,000 US consumers done last fall by TECHnalysis Research, voice calling only represents 5.8% of the 18-24-year-old segment’s total smartphone usage time. Even with older consumers in the 45-54 age group, voice calling and texting together only account for just over ¼ of a typical user’s smartphone time. The rest is spent on more computing-device type activities, such as browsing the web, listening to music, gaming, reading email, social media, etc.

Alongside these consumer trends, we’ve seen tremendous changes in work habits. For example, in that same survey, over half of employed respondents said they used a personal phone for work tasks during a typical week, spending an average of 2.3 hours on those efforts. While a good portion of this is likely for email, there’s no question a large amount of time is spent doing work-related, computing-style tasks on our personal smartphones. Throw in the large number of employer-provided smartphones in active use where—theoretically, at least—most of the time spent is on work tasks, and the total hours of computing done on smartphones becomes enormous. Plus, this is just for the US, where PC penetration is quite high. In many developing regions, smartphones are essentially the only computing device many people own or have access to. As a result, smartphone-based computing on a global basis is now on a staggering scale.

Given this context, thinking of a smartphone as more of a traditional computing device than just a communications tool seems incredibly obvious. But for many traditional applications, there is that one thing — screen size.

Now, as someone who finds reading glasses to be an increasingly necessary accessory, I’ll admit I don’t have the razor sharp eyes of my youth. I also acknowledge that it never ceases to amaze me how much today’s young people can do on the 5-5.5”-sized screens the smartphone industry has coalesced around. Still, there is a limit that most people face when it comes to what they can achieve on these smaller screens, particularly when a fair amount of input is required.

That’s why I’m intrigued by HP’s new Elite X3. At first glance, the 6-inch Qualcomm Snapdragon 820-powered device looks to be just another smartphone—a Windows 10 Mobile-based one at that. But in conjunction with some of the hardware accessories the company specifically developed to be used alongside it, along with the capabilities of Windows 10 Mobile’s Continuum features, the X3 can morph into a full-on, big-screen computing device.

Now, cynics will argue we’ve seen this before. Anyone remember the Motorola Atrix? Or how about Microsoft’s own Lumia 950 from last fall? Both notable but ultimately failed efforts to develop a smartphone form factor computer. The difference with the X3, however, is the focus and detailed vision. On the Atrix and Lumia 950, the computing features were add-ons to an existing smartphone. The X3 seems to be positioned and designed primarily as a computer, with the smartphone capabilities essentially built in.

On the Atrix and Lumia 950, the computing features were add-ons to an existing smartphone. The HP X3 seems to be positioned and designed primarily as a computer, with the smartphone capabilities essentially built in.

Admittedly, that may sound like semantics and, of course, whether the final execution lives up to the promise remains to be seen. However, a quick glance at some of the details suggests HP has thought things through pretty well. First, the hardware accessories—particularly the clamshell form factor Mobile Extender, with its 12.5” HD screen, three USB Type-C, micro HDMI and audio ports—add a whole new level of connectivity and input options to the phone-based computing experience. You connect the X3 to the Mobile Extender via one of the USB Type-C ports—where you’ll get the added benefit of being able to power and recharge the X3 through the Mobile Extender’s built-in battery—but HP will enable also wireless connections, though that may come after the product launches.

On the software side, because it’s Windows 10 Mobile-based, the full Microsoft Office suite is built-in. As an ARM-based device, however, there is the potential for compatibility problems with existing Windows apps (other than newer universal Windows 10 apps, which can run natively on Windows 10 Mobile ARM devices, but those applications are still very limited in number). To avoid the Windows RT-like incompatibility stigma, HP is working to provide a virtualization-based solution that will allow traditional x86-based apps to run on the X3—a huge boon for most potential users.

Even with all these efforts, it’s not clear to me a device like the X3 will become most people’s only, or even primary, computing device. Nevertheless, in a world where people are looking for more flexible computing options, and are accustomed to working across multiple devices, the X3 concept seems to be well timed.

Mobile World Congress also saw the debut of some smartphone form factor computing devices from Panasonic. The company’s new ToughPad FZ-F1 and FZ-N1 (Windows 10 IOT Mobile Enterprise and Android-based, respectively) are ruggedized, have a 4.7” screen and are Qualcomm Snapdragon 801-equipped handheld computers with integrated barcode scanners. At first glance they look like ruggedized smartphones with a large protrusion (for the barcode reader), but interestingly the company will actually be selling a version that supports WiFi only (and can do voice via VOIP), in addition to an LTE-equipped option. Though clearly not designed to be a general purpose computing device, like the HP X3, these Panasonic FZ devices exemplify how hardware companies are evolving smartphone form factors to meet unique mobile computing needs.

To be sure, the “traditional” smartphone will continue to be the dominant opportunity for these 5” screen-based devices for some time. But as the category matures and dramatic new technology innovations for them continue to slow, it’s clear we’re entering an era where smartphones, as we know them now, will likely cease to be.