Over the last decade, the smartphone has become firmly entrenched as society’s indispensable electronics device. The recent mobile phenomenon was enabled through innovations in hardware, software, services, and business model changes which fed consumers’ thirst for always-on, always-connected computing with smartphones and tablets. Most of the enablers have increased or improved exponentially, but others, like battery technologies, have not improved that much over the past 5 years. One very interesting technology, Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0, has the potential to bridge the gap between consumers’ high expectations and laggard battery technology.
As consumers and business people use their smartphones for more and more throughout the day, the more they expect from it. In addition to talking, texting, and doing emails, increasingly they are engaging in social media, reading the news, taking pictures (and of course selfies) and watching videos. While they really want the phone to last all day without having to recharge, for many of the “phone-centric,” this isn’t the reality. If this weren’t the case, companies like Mophie wouldn’t need to exist. Nor would Samsung get any credit for having replaceable batteries. The fact is, unless we have something like a Mophie case, many of us are recharging during the day. We have chargers at home, on our night stands, in the car and at work. When we are on trips, we borrow our friends’ external batteries that have become the technology industry’s best swag.
The challenge is that there have been no major battery breakthroughs for years. The first iPhone in 2007 had generally the same kind of battery technology as today’s iPhone 5s, a 3.7 volt, Lithium Ion (LiOn) battery. When you compare both iPhones (2007 versus 2014), nearly every component, the wireless, display, processors, etc., are light years ahead in improvements versus their predecessor. Improving batteries off of Lithium-Ion is tricky, as you are messing with chemical reactions…. and chemical reactions gone awry aren’t good for smartphones we put in our pockets or put on our nightstands. Exploding or smoking phones don’t bode well for consumers or phone manufacturers. Up to this point, the industry has attacked the problem with increasingly efficient silicon. Some could argue bigger batteries have been an “improvement” as the Samsung GS4 has a 65% larger battery (mAH) than the iPhone 5s.
The industry needs something to bridge the gap between consistently improving silicon and future, unicorn-powered batteries. This is where Qualcomm’s Quick Charge technology comes into play. Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 creates a “system” between the charger and the mobile device and delivers as much power to the device, up to 60 watts, as it can safely absorb. Today’s chargers can only send around 9 watts of energy down the cable, so you can imagine the improvement potential. So what does it mean to deliver nearly 7X the amount of power to a mobile device?
Qualcomm shared the following information with me based on their internal tests and it’s exciting.
Hours to 90% Charge
30 Minute Charge
|Quick Charge 2.0||
|Improvement (up to)||3X, 2.7 hours||
NOTES: 3300mAH smartphone battery. Traditional charging uses USB BC 1.2 linear charger.
Essentially, in less time than it takes me to eat lunch, with Quick Charge 2.0 (QC 2.0) I could have an additional 60% battery life on my smartphone, phablet or tablet with a large, 3300 mAH battery. Forget to charge your phone overnight? Just charge it in the car for an hour and a half and be done with it.
It sounds so good there must be a catch, right; some big cost adder, some proprietary lock-in somewhere or one giant contingency that makes it impossible for consumers to take advantage of. As there are no “free lunches”, I went looking for who had to pay. Let’s start with supported phones.
Qualcomm has already enabled its own Snapdragon line back a generation to the “S”-line. What I find very cool is that you could get this benefit on a phone you own today as long as you had a Quick Charge 2.0 power unit. Next month, Qualcomm will enable phone OEMs and ODMs to support other non-Qualcomm applications processors. So if Intel, Nvidia, or MediaTek solutions wanted to take advantage of the Quick Charge technology, they could, but they need to make sure they have a compatible power management integrated circuit (charging IC). While I don’t have independent verification, Qualcomm states that non-Qualcomm SoCs use this specific PMIC chip. How about safety?
Qualcomm has designed QC 2.0 to operate safely with legacy adapters and legacy phones. This means if you have a QC 2.0 adapter and plug it into a non-supported phone, you won’t “smoke” it. Conversely, if you have a QC 2.0-enabled phone but lost your QC 2.0 adapter, you can still charge it with an old charger, but of course not as quickly as you could with the QC 2.0 charger.
So how do consumers know? As I stated before, to get the full benefits of QC 2.0, the phone and the charger must support Quick Charge 2.0 hardware and software. Qualcomm has created a logo for both chargers and phones to signal to the consumer that both devices support the standard. While Qualcomm isn’t doing some huge marketing campaign around this, they have offered the technology royalty-free, which Qualcomm believes has already and will get more phone manufacturers and charger manufacturers to use the logo. The “Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 Technology” logo is much simpler than the bizarrely confusing “WiFi a-b-g-n-ac” logo. The logo says what it does (charges quickly), the generation (second), and who developed it (Qualcomm). This will be a big marketing win for Qualcomm if they can get this logo on millions of phone and charger boxes.
I am looking forward to using Quick Charge 2.0 at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona Spain as I expect many phone and charger announcements. What I’m most interested in is exploring if consumer charging behavior would change. Would I need an adapter by my bed? Would I continue to charge overnight? Would I accept lower battery life for better performance because I can charge so much more quickly? These are all questions I want answered and will after I have personally tried and done follow-up research.
With Quick Charge 2.0, Qualcomm has developed some very innovative technology that actually solves a recognized problem consumers know they have. It solves the “why does it take so long to charge my phone” problem. As manufacturers attempt to esoterically differentiate their phones using different colors and materials, they need to consider Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 in their future phones.