Mobile & Wireless World attendees seek power boost

Von David Ramel

It wasn"t cutting-edge 64-bit technology or the latest gadgets that mostly concerned audience members during hardware-oriented presentations Monday that kicked off Computerworld"s Mobile & Wireless World conference. It was batteries.

During presentations by Intel Corp."s Rob Leach and Hewlett-Packard Co."s Richard Stone, most of the audience questions focused on what is being done to extend battery life.

"Power is an issue that we need to address," said Leach, worldwide manager of Intel"s mobile services development. He mentioned smarter software that initiates only certain functions during periods of connectivity, for example, and lower-power dual-core processors as advances that can extend mobile productivity.

Stone, HP"s manager of wireless and mobile solutions, pointed to lithium-polymer batteries, fuel cells and organic LEDs as promising technologies that may help address the problem. HP and other hardware vendors are providing more 64-bit devices for tasks such as digital content creation, engineering design and analysis, and 3-D gaming, he said, and those applications will require improved batteries.

Otherwise, a high-end 64-bit mobile device "will last about 10 minutes," he said.

Stone noted that the ability to mold lithium-polymer batteries into any shape is an added bonus for advanced technology in laptops and handhelds. "They will become standard at the high end," he said.

Devices powered by fuel cells rather than batteries are several years away from mainstream use. Even further out, Stone said, are micromachine generators. He described them as miniaturized gas-powered turbines spinning at 150,000 rpm but only 1 millimeter in diameter. "It"s great in the lab," he said, "but how do you make it safe?"

Despite potential breakthroughs far in the future, Stone said, "there"s really not going to be an incredible "Aha!" moment" in mobile power technology. Rather, there will be gradual increases in battery capability and power management strategies that will lengthen the amount of time mobile devices can run without recharging.

Stone said the industry is hoping to hit a performance point where rising battery capability intersects with growing power consumption at the one-day mark. When mobile devices can be used at full functionality for a whole day, users will be satisfied, he said, because they know that within a day they will be able to recharge their devices somewhere.

"You"ll never hear people talk about batteries again," Stone said. "It"ll just be something they have to buy."