How Longer Battery Life Could Change Phones and Gadgets

It’s not all about less-frequent charging

Key Takeaways

  • Weeks-long battery life enables whole new classes of gadgets.
  • New battery tech could power a smartphone for up to a week.
  • Ultra-long battery life makes computerized gadgets behave like their analog predecessors.
Someone holding smartphone in a car with a low battery symbol on the screen.

Xuanyu Han / Getty Images

Imagine if your phone battery could last for a week. Or a month. And not just your phone, but any gadget. What kinds of new things might this enable?

Longer battery life means fewer charging stops, but it also means a lot more than that. First is a lessened environmental impact if batteries need to be replaced less often. After that comes a whole slew of features and activities that are not even possible with today’s battery life, which is measured in hours, not weeks.

Think about the different ways you treat gadgets depending on their battery life. You can set an e-reader aside just like a paper book, whereas you might obsessively turn off the screen of your phone whenever you’re not looking at it. 

"Despite all the inventions and technological advancements we come across daily, the current battery life only extends up to a day and gets drained quickly with more usage," Miranda Yan of software company VinPit told Lifewire via email. 

Whole New Technologies

If battery life could be measured in weeks or months, what kinds of things could we make? One answer comes from old analog gadgets. Before we put computers in everything, devices would last months. A film camera, for example, only required a couple of button cells to power its light meter, and that was about it. Wristwatches are the same.

"Despite all the inventions and technological advancements we come across daily, the current battery life only extends up to a day and gets drained quickly with more usage."

This let us forget that they even needed power. You’d just use the camera or wear the watch and change the battery when it died. Imagine being able to treat your digital camera like that? You’d never need to switch it off; just let it sleep, ready to roll. And your Apple Watch would be quite a different device if you only had to charge it once a week. You could go on a long weekend break without taking any chargers. 

"Other uses would be for sensors which could live on without the need for service, once installed," Orlando Remédios CEO of supply chain monitoring specialist Sensefinity, told Lifewire via email. "These applications can reach farming, buildings, smart-cities...basically everything with which we interact."

There are also plenty of devices that are difficult to keep charged. GPS-tracking collars for dogs, for example, would be a lot more viable if they could run for a year. Or how about wearable health monitors? Or GPS alarm systems for bicycles? And something like an e-reader, which already lasts for weeks, could go for months without needing a charger.

Will Batteries Ever Get Better?

There are already several alternatives to batteries. Some—like hydrogen fuel cells—are impractical for small consumer electronics (although you could use one as an external battery pack). And others have tradeoffs that may or may not make sense, depending on their use. 

A rechargeable, lithium-ion battery for an electric scooter.

Kumpan Electric / Unsplash

Supercapacitors, for example, can be fully charged almost instantly, but they store only a quarter of the energy of current batteries. Still, it’s tempting to think about how you could plug your phone in and charge it fully in seconds. Coupled with induction (so-called "wireless") charging, it might allow you to touch a smartwatch onto a charger for a few seconds without even removing it from your wrist. 

A better hope comes from Australian researchers at Monash University in Melbourne. They have developed a lithium-sulfur battery "capable of powering a smartphone for five continuous days." The battery also could power an electric vehicle for over 600 miles. These cells are fabricated in Germany and use essentially the same materials as the lithium-ion battery in the device you’re probably using to read this article.

The biggest downside of these batteries, assuming they are suitable for mass production and can replace current batteries, is that they still use lithium. Lithium is expensive to recycle (compared to extracting it) and uses a lot of water to extract. So much water, in fact, that some nearby farmers and communities are left without enough

As ever, the desire for long-lived batteries is stronger than our ability to create them. But equally important is the environmental impact of battery power. As electric vehicles replace fossil-fuel-powered vehicles, the requirements for lithium will rise unless we can come up with an alternative.

Was this page helpful?