The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

For Longer Battery Life, Dumb Down Phones

Lobotomizing mobile phones would help conserve power in times of trouble—and normal times, too

2 min read
For Longer Battery Life, Dumb Down Phones

Hurricane Sandy’s power outages have certainly provided perspective on the progress of consumer electronics.  Though lithium-ion batteries are more capacious than ever, the gadgets they power are more voracious, too. It seems we’re hardly better off in a crisis.
 
In the ideal case, you’d be able to lobotomize your device to dumb or dumber: a plain cellphone with just enough on the ball to handle email. The standard in frugality is set by the humble pager, which needs just 90 and 70 mW to send and receive email, respectively.

Compare that to a smart phone, in which the ravenous display alone sucks around 400 mW. The non-display parts are none too frugal, either. In a 2010 analysis Aaron Carroll and Gernot Heiser of  the University of New South Wales, in Australia, found that those parts of a Samsung 2.5-G phone, the Openmoko Neo Freerunner, needed 610 mW to send an email message over the GPRS system—the telephonic one that you must resort to when you haven’t got WiFi. That figure drops to 302.2 mW when sending a text message.
 
How can phones and laptops be designed with emergency conservation in mind? If you’re into full-survival mode, you might want to prearrange for your phone to turn off its display and be dead to all but the most basic telephonic signals. You might send a single text message to a pre-arranged set of phone numbers saying:  “I am alive and can receive text messages, but I will turn on the display to read them only every few hours. If you absolutely, positively must reach me immediately, send the following text to my number, and it will sound an alarm.” 
 
This idea, refined considerably, is the gist of a 2011 proposal by Peter Cole, Suwannit Chareen and Hong Xie of the school of information technology at Murdoch University, in Perth Australia. (Hmm. Why are the Australians so prominent in disaster planning, seeing as they live on the most geologically stable part of the planet?)  To allow a phone to save power by going idle, thus deactivating circuits that handle signals from many different systems—4G, 3G, Wi-Fi, and so forth, the engineers suggest what they call a Wireless Interface Notification and Activation system, which would send emergency signals to phones that activated only the relevant wireless interface, which could then a message.
 
Of course, such a system would have the added advantage of making a charge last longer even when there’s no particular emergency. That means it could attract customers in times of plenty, while protecting them in times of want.
 
Meanwhile, those living in Sandy’s wake can do a little lobotomization by hand. First off, dim your display, the power hog par excellence. Next, turn off Wifi (probably useless anyway). Then revert to 3G- from your 4-G network, and so on.  Just strip away the smarts, much as Dave the astronaut did when he disabled Hal, the insane computer, in “2001: A Space Odyssey”—
 
“Dave, my mind is going,” pleaded Hal. “I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I'm a... fraid.”
 

The Conversation (0)

Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
Vertical
Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford
Blue

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

Keep Reading ↓Show less
{"imageShortcodeIds":[]}