If you’re like a lot of people, you thought your smartphone was  the greatest thing in the world until you got your smart watch. That little gem goes anywhere you go, and you don’t even have to remember to put it in your pocket.

So if the point of a smart watch is to never be separated from your device, why should you have to take it off to charge it during the day? You shouldn’t — which is why manufacturers are always looking for ways to extend smart watch battery life.



Getting More Life From Existing Technology

Here are four ways manufacturers are cutting power consumption to extend battery life:

1. Bluetooth Smart

When two Bluetooth devices are paired, they can consume a lot of energy. That’s where Bluetooth Smart comes into play. The intelligent design of Bluetooth Smart keeps devices from consuming energy as a result of being connected unless they’re sharing data with each other.

Additionally, Bluetooth Smart keeps devices paired and ready to share data, even if they’re only transmitting intermittently. To get the energy-saving advantages of Bluetooth Smart, you’ll need to make sure the mobile device and computer with which you sync your smart watch is Bluetooth Smart Ready.

2. Low-Power Processing

To perform computing tasks using the least power possible, manufacturers are relying on low-power microcontrollers. These devices minimize power consumption not only when applications are running but when a smart watch is in sleep mode.

The 8-bit PIC microcontroller from Microchip, for example, makes it possible for many peripherals to interact with the smart watch without accessing the watch’s CPU. Not engaging the CPU allows applications to perform many tasks while consuming less power.

3. Energy-Efficient Displays

LED displays are so yesterday; say “hello” to OLED. OLED utilizes no backlighting, which makes it not only energy efficient but also thinner and lighter for smart watch displays. Manufacturers also save energy by displaying only essential information on your smart watch screen. If you want to dig deeper, you can always open your smartphone app, which has no battery consequences for your smart watch.

4. More Efficient Operating Systems

To slash battery usage on Android devices, Google commissioned Project Volta in 2014. Android carriers (and wearers) could see which applications used the most battery power through the Battery Historian feature and use Battery Saver to close certain apps when the phone was low on power.

Other Project Volta innovations include allowing apps to batch common requests, such as uploading logs and cleaning up databases, and certain tasks can also be delayed until the device is plugged into an electrical outlet. In an Ars Technica test, Project Volta updates extended Android device battery life by 36 percent.

New Frontiers for Batteries

Experts are working to build a better battery using some of these technologies, but they’re not ready for market just yet:

  • Nanosheets. Researchers at Kansas State University are working to boost storage using thin, silicon carbonitride-wrapped sheets inside lithium batteries.
  • Solid-state electrolyte. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, researchers are working to replace powder and liquid battery electrolyte with solid material, which can offer added stability and density.
  • Lithium air. Yale and MIT researchers, along with companies like Dyson and Volkswagen, are working on much lighter lithium batteries that use oxygen for chemical reactions. Unfortunately, these batteries are a long way from showtime — they’ve only made it a maximum of 60 charge cycles as opposed to the hundreds and even thousands of charge cycles a lithium-ion battery can achieve.
  • Foldables. Stanford has created a foldable aluminum-ion smartphone battery that can hold up for a whopping 7,500 charge cycles. Bad news: it currently only generates about two volts, which is half the power you’d need to operate a smart device.
  • Solar rechargeables. Chinese Academy of Sciences researchers have developed a rechargeable solar cell that could be woven into fabric, but they’ve only reached 3 percent efficiency so far, not enough to effectively recharge your smart watch.

What You Can Do Now

You can’t do much to speed up time to market for any of these über batteries, but you can save power on your smart watch today. Turning down your screen brightness, disabling Wi-Fi syncing, and turning off unnecessary notifications lets you buy more time before you have to find the nearest charger.

Apple Watch image by Pixabay (public domain)

Bending OLED screen by meharris from Wikimedia Commons

Samsung Galaxy Gear watch by Karlis Dambrans from Wikimedia Commons

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