There was a time a few years back when a lot of people bought a new smartphone every 18 months, as soon as the latest model dropped and their contract was up. But that has changed.
As the rate of technical improvements slows and new models offer little beyond a shiny new exterior, the urge to spend £600 each year has become easier to ignore. Polling by Fluent and eMarketer in the US suggests that nearly half of smartphone users now wait at least three years between upgrades, while data from Gallup suggests more than half wait until their phone stops working or becomes “totally obsolete”.
While the features may not date so fast and the outside may still look good as new after two years of use, the battery will almost certainly have had it. Now Sony is trying to fix that, but not by fixing the battery.
That’s because the lithium ion cells within smartphones don’t exactly need fixing – they will continue to work for years – but their ability to hold their original amount of charge rapidly diminishes with repeated recharging cycles.
Everyone who finds themselves with a chunky battery pack for their new smartphone or desperately searching for a charger by mid-afternoon knows battery capacity is a never-ending headache that only gets worse as a smartphone, and its battery ages. Rather than fixing the battery, Sony wants to do something about the recharging.
Jun Makino, Sony mobile’s senior product marketing manager, says: “People are starting to keep hold of their phones for way more than two years usage, so we’ve been looking at ways to try and prolong the life of the smartphone.
“We’ve started learning your charging cycles so that our new Xperia X smartphones only complete charging to 100% when they estimate you’re about to start using them, so that the damage caused by maintaining a battery at 100% is negated.”
This is important, a battery that’s usually kept at a charge between 20% and 80% of its capacity is much healthier - it’s going to the extremes that wears it out at a faster rate.
The Japanese electronics firm has partnered with Californian adaptive charging company Qnovo to put technology into its Xperia smartphones. This includes the new top-end Xperia XZ and Xperia X Compact, which Sony reckons will double the life of the battery to around four years.
Qnovo’s technology carefully controls the voltage put into the battery at the same time as delaying the full charge, helping to fast charge without damaging the cells.
“Of course, we’d still like it if you bought a new Sony phone, but we realise longevity is a trend and we want to help with battery technology and services on the phone such as the Smart Cleaner and Xperia tips that learn your behaviour and help keep it running like new for longer,” said Makino.
For Sony, the new Xperia X line, and particularly the new flagship Xperia XZ launched at IFA in Berlin on Thursday, needs to do things differently to try and attract new customers.
The company has struggled over the past few years, with declining sales and smartphones that while technically very good, have failed to capture buyers’ interest in the face of stiff competition from market-leader Samsung, Apple and rising Chinese smartphone brands such as Huawei.
Is extending battery longevity an idea that will recharge Sony’s fortunes? Only time will tell.
- Sony Xperia Z5 review: good but not exceptional
- Sony Xperia Z5 Compact review: arguably the best smaller smartphone
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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