Companies have been innovating around smartphones for decades, and cell batteries are no exception. We look at how phone batteries have evolved since the first mobile in 1973, and what the future of our mobile phones could look like.
The First Mobile Phone Batteries
The first mobile phone battery was invented in 1973 as part of the prototype DynaTAC mobile phone. Motorola boss Marty Cooper made the first call from it to his rivals at Bell Labs to show off the newly invented tech. The phone at the time weighed over a kilogram, and its battery could only last for twenty minutes before needing over ten hours to recharge!
Part of the reason for this short life was that the mobile used a nickel-cadmium battery, which has a quite low energy density, and so takes a very long time to charge. They were also very expensive because of the materials required. When the first commercial mobile was released ten years later, you could only use it during a call for half an hour at most and it cost thousands of pounds!
The Nickel-Cadmium batteries also suffered from ‘memory effect’. Also known as ‘lazy battery’, if you don’t fully discharge the cell before you charge the battery again, you will lose a chunk of ‘maximum battery’ power – the batteries ‘remember’ the smaller charge and do not fill themselves to full again.
If these faults were not bad enough, the Cadmium in the batteries was toxic, particularly when heated to release fumes. As batteries almost universally ran hot, this inevitably meant that poisonous fumes were released.
How Mobile Phone Technology Improved in the 1990s
After a few years, mobile phones transitioned from Nickel Cadmium to Nickel-Metal Hydride, or NiMH batteries. These batteries were less toxic, had fewer memory effect issues, and crucially had much smaller batteries. They were in every way better than the alternative.
During the 1980s, though technology improved, mobile phones were mostly still used in cars because of the huge batteries needed to be effective. Even though Nickel-Metal hydride batteries were smaller and could charge quicker than Nickel-Cadmium, it took a while for them to roll into mass production.
The Li-Ion Battery Revolutionised Phone Batteries
Lithium-Ion batteries, or Li-Ion batteries, are a rechargeable cell format that was adopted in the early 1990s and became mainstream within just a few years. Most of these batteries have four pieces: a positive and negative electrode, an electrolyte (a liquid chemical compound that conducts electrical currents), and usually an electronic controller to regulate power and prevent your battery exploding.
Li-Ions were another considerable step forward in power density, which finally made properly portable mobile phones possible. Where the DynaTAC was almost a foot tall and its successor, the MicroTAC, still nine inches tall, the Nokia 1110 (using Li-ion cells) became the best-selling mobile phone in the world thanks to its small size and gigantic long-lasting battery life. The 1100 sold more than 250 million units worldwide thanks in no small part to the new battery technology.
The Lithium Polymer Battery
The Lithium-Ion polymer battery, or Li-Po for short, innovates on the electrolyte conduction of the Li-Ion type and are more common in cutting-edge phones today. Instead of a liquid electrolyte, the conductor is a polymer gel, which is exceptionally conducive and so can provide more specific energy than traditional Li-Ion batteries.
There are a few drawbacks to Li-Ion polymer batteries for smartphones and mobile phones. They are more costly to manufacture, store less power and have a shorter lifespan than traditional Li-Ion batteries. However, LiPos are more robust, flexible, and less likely to leak electrolyte fluid than their rivals. Especially valuable for mobile phones which go through extensive use, they do not degrade with use anywhere near as quickly as Li-Ion batteries. This means the lifespan of a phone battery – which has been the major limiter to the lifespan of a phone – can be massively improved upon.
Both batteries are popular among phones today. LiPo batteries are especially popular for premium phones that need the battery to hold up more, while Li-Ion batteries are more popular with budget smartphones. When new smartphones need more power than ever to work, these batteries are more than up to the task.
What is the Future of Phone Batteries?
Solid state batteries use solid electrodes to be much more stable and much less prone to exploding (remember the Note 7? Its battery defect was so severe that the phone was banned on flights!). Solid state batteries are projected to have longer lives than the current life cycle of Li-On batteries of 2-3 years as well.
Solid state batteries are still an emerging technology, so researchers are yet to come to grips with what kind of solid-state electrolyte would be best for smartphone batteries. One possibility is FLCB. This is the only lithium chemical battery that works on flexible printed circuits, which makes it suitable for wearables or anything else that needs flexibility – like mobile phones. You can even cut the battery in half and charge the phone, that’s how safe it is. FLCB has been available for years now, but it is yet to appear in mainstream products.
Samsung also announced in 2017 that it had developed new battery technology based on graphene – a material that for almost a decade has revolutionised different industries. In batteries, Samsung claimed it increased capacity by 45% and charging speed fivefold. Their goal is to charge a smartphone battery in just 12 minutes. Samsung has been innovating this year too by recycling cobalt from used smartphone batteries, continually advancing smartphone technology.
How do I Make my Mobile Phone Battery Last Longer Now?
If your phone is charging slowly or running out of battery quicker than you think it should, there are today some steps you can take:
- Reduce mobile data and Bluetooth use.
- Stop running as many apps in the background.
- Remove any home screen widgets and live wallpaper.
- Turn on ‘Low Power Mode’ on your device whenever you’re not using it.
- Update your apps and firmware.
- Turn off any unnecessary hardware radios, like GPS, NFC, LTE, etc.
- If your phone is old, look at replacing the battery.
And of course, if you want your phone to continue lasting longer, we recommend a matte screen protector to keep your phone in top condition and resistant from damage. Explore our store online to find yourself the perfect model!