Absolute Power


What’d Ya Get?

Growing up, the big question in January after the holidays was always “what’d ya get?” Remember when kids were bursting with excitement and pride to respond “Risk!” or “Battling Tops” or maybe “a baseball mitt”? These days, if it’s not a new phone, tablet, iPod, 3DS, or other electronic device, somehow it’s a little disappointing.

When my kids were in grade school, I used to teach a weekly “computer lab” in their classes, with the goal of introducing them to technology, talking about and experimenting with computer hardware and software. One of the things I always enjoyed discussing was the move from our traditional tools and appliances to their high-tech digital counterparts. Typewriters, record players, clocks, videocassette players, cameras, radios, and phones have all been replaced by “computers” of one shape or another, with the usual “computer-like” fundamental functions—input (including A-D conversion), digital processing, digital storage, and output (with requisite conversion). The one thing that hasn’t changed in the digital domain is our dependence on power.

Yes, we’ve managed to perform incredible numbers of calculations in virtually no time, and store unimaginable amounts of data in pretty much no space, but we’re really just getting started in optimizing power. We now have a glimpse of how this will change computing—mobile devices with extreme power efficiency, communicating with the cloud for large computational or storage needs. Our current focus on communications and power has changed the basic computing model from input-compute-store-output to powerOn-communicate-powerOFF.

Taking a look at today’s hot mobile devices where battery life and device weight are at least as important as processing speed and total storage, nearly 28% of the total weight of an iPad is in the battery, compared to 0.4% in the main logic board. The iPhone 4 battery is around 19%, and the Droid X, around 20%. Interestingly, that percentage seems to hold all the way up to a Nissan Leaf, which comes in at 19% of its curb weight due to the batteries! And at a very high level, the common reaction to these four modern-day “computers-with-lots -of-side-effects” is: “extraordinary battery life on an iPad”, and “need longer battery life” on the iPhone 4, Droid X, and Leaf. It seems 25% to 30% is a reasonable target, regardless of device these days.

So while we’re not quite there yet, it probably won’t be long before we hear the conversation, “What’d ya get?” “A Battery!” “Ooh, me too…”

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