Why the Apple Smartwatch Should Be Self-Powered


Last year was a big year for many companies in terms of R&D on wearable computing devices. Google, for example, unveiled its latest and arguably most lofty project yet at Google I/O last year: Google Glass.

The Project Glass teaser clip only scratched the surface for the possibilities of such hands-free tech and opened the floor for and endless list of questions. Will devices like these fully replace smartphones as we currently know them? How will devices that rest in front of our eyes affect our ever-shortening attention spans? Will the slow, non-connected world cease to exist? (I kid … sort of.)

However, Google wasn’t the first company to dabble in wearable computing, not by a long shot. Allerta, for one, introduced the inPulse smartwatch for BlackBerry devices back in October 2009. You may now know one of the brains behind inPulse, Eric Migocovsky, as the CEO of Pebble, easily one of the hottest smartwatch endeavors … ever. Martian watches, i’m Watch and Meta Watch are just some of the other smartwatch entries.

FitBit, FitBug, Jawbone Up, Nike+ FuelBand, Motorola MOTOACTV and a handful of other nifty, wearable gadgets were built and designed to digitalize and help track your active life.

The Pebble smartwatch is elegant, simple and offers great battery life.

For the last couple years, the Golden-i has been floating around the CES show floor. Last year, it made an appearance in the Motorola booth. And Vuzix has been showing off wearable displays for decades – only in recent years has the technology started to enter the mainstream.

This wearable technology boom has only just begun. Some major players are rumored to be entering the field very soon. Apple, for one, is rumored to be bringing forth its own variation of the smartwatch, believed to be called the iWatch.

Rumors with any sort of solid information are scarce, but the so-called iWatch is believed to be running iOS (which could mean it could be a standalone device, but that’s far less likely than it being a supplementary device) and composed of curved glass.

We have no doubt that Apple would pull no punches if they jump into an existing market. The company whose name is often synonymous with world class craftsmanship wouldn’t dare release a haphazard product piece of hardware, would they? It’s doubtful, especially considering its pockets are deeper than any other company’s.

But in the recent weeks of mounding Apple smartwatch rumors, I have read countless times that there will be a major hit or miss with this product: battery life. Rumored to be running full-fledged iOS, battery life could be a concern, particularly if the iWatch comes with a full-color LCD and a list of connectivity options.

Using the iPod Nano as a watch requires frequent charging.

Pebble, for instance, incorporates an e-paper (not to be confused with E Ink) LCD display and a 150mAh battery, which easily holds the charge for anywhere from five days to a week. Having to plug in a watch to charge nearly every day severely detracts from the experience. This is why the iPod nano with a strap never worked well for me. (Not to mention, I never loaded any music on it and it was effectively useless.) And this is where Apple’s iWatch could face some serious adversity.

So maybe the iWatch battery will be a letdown. ArsTechnica’s Iljitsch van Beijnum suggests that a solution could be the ability to quickly charge the iWatch on the fly by using supercapacitor technology. It wouldn’t hold its charge as long as, say, Pebble, but it could be fully charged in seconds – a fair trade-off, if you ask me.

Charging in mere seconds isn’t a bad idea. But having to remember to constantly charge yet another device (I’m already up to double-digits on a daily basis) is eventually going to drive me, and likely many others, to stop using the device over time. Such is the case with virtually every nonessential device I own.

An idea that was passed by me earlier this week is one that struck me as intriguing: a self-powered or self-sustaining smartwatch.

A watch will certainly draw less power than a full-sized smartphone. The display – generally the main power draw in all smartphones – is much smaller in a watch. And unless it’s a standalone device, it should be limited to Bluetooth, NFC, possibly Wi-Fi and only a few other connections, not LTE or 3G. In other words, it shouldn’t even come close to drawing nearly as much power as a smartphone.

Why couldn’t such a device incorporate a series of small solar panels for trickle charging? What about a kinetic charger? Although, the nPower PEG Kinetic Charger is quite large, it has the ability to supply a smartphone with about a minute of talk time after just 10 minutes of walking. On a much smaller scale and inside a device that will be strapped to part of your body that moves around more than any other, why wouldn’t kinetic power keep a device like the iWatch alive for days, if not indefinitely?

It seems to be the obvious solution, no?

Battery power is a constant issue for the majority of mobile users. The HTC One announcement yesterday should lend credence to that – a 2,300mAh battery just isn’t enough anymore. One way Apple could drive this smartwatch device home with ease is by eliminating the need for constant charging. Kinetic charging – if plausible on such a small scale – would be game-changing for the blossoming wearable computing market.

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About The Author
Taylor Martin
Based out of Charlotte, NC, Taylor Martin started writing about technology in 2009 while working in wireless retail. He has used BlackBerry off and on for over seven years, Android for nearly four years, iOS for three years, and has experimented with both webOS and Windows Phone. Taylor has reviewed countless smartphones and tablets, and doesn't go anywhere without a couple gadgets in his pockets or "nerd bag." In his free time, Taylor enjoys playing disc golf with friends, rock climbing, and playing video games. He also enjoys the occasional hockey game, and would do unspeakable things for some salmon nigiri. For more on Taylor Martin, checkout his Pocketnow Insider edition. | Google+