November 23, 2004 10:25 AM PST
Batteries better, but are they still guilty as charged?
Although electronics manufacturers have made substantial strides in getting their devices to eke more life out of a battery charge, one of the chief complaints among consumers remains the perceived short run time of audio players, notebooks and other devices.
"You can never be too rich, too thin or have enough battery life," said Stephen Baker, an analyst at NPD Techworld. "While everyone is focused on improving battery life, we still have a long way to go."
In many ways, it's a Sisyphean task. On the one hand, technologies deployed over the past few years--deep sleep states, screens made of organic light-emitting diodes, chips that can regulate their speeds and energy-efficient software--have dramatically reduced power consumption and thereby extended battery life on a variety of devices.
Batteries in notebooks, which five years ago typically lasted only two hours, now can run up to five or more hours.
The Logitech MX 1000 cordless mouse, meanwhile, can run 21 days on a full charge, thanks to a wide variety of tweaks to virtually all of the internal components that use electricity, the company says.
"We are about three times longer than when we started the cordless-mouse category," said Ashish Arora, director of product marketing at Logitech. "It is a major component of the cordless experience."
What's more, the Swiss-U.S. company incorporated features that seek to eliminate some of the frustrations common with battery-powered devices. Ten minutes in the charger gives the mouse enough energy to run a full day, while a full charge only takes about 3 hours. Surveys taken by the company also show that customers will pay a $10 premium in some cases for better battery life.
"Almost across the board, every device you can buy this year is more efficient than last year's by 10 to 20 percent," said Richard Doherty, an analyst at The Envisioneering Group. Apple Computer's latest iPod, for example, which has a color screen, can run longer than earlier black-and-white versions, he said.
On the other hand, devices are getting more complex and requiring more power. Wireless connectivity and 15-inch screens, baroque excesses less than four years ago, are now standard notebook features. Customers also expect companies to live up to their claims.
"Bottom line is, I really like my iPod Mini, but drawbacks on the iPod Mini for me are first, memory limitations, and second, battery life," said Allen Latta, director of business development at VenCap International. "On the battery, I'm getting about six hours on a charge, not the full eight."
The effort to reduce energy consumption, which started in earnest in the late '90s with notebooks, has become pervasive throughout the industry and touches nearly all the components that go into electronic devices.
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