Cell-phone subscribers love their extra features, from today's color screens to tomorrow's video. But all that stuff really eats power. Fortunately, several companies are developing ways to add more bells and whistles while managing power demands and preserving battery life. Many chip companies already are doing a good job of designing power conservation into their devices.
But designers still have to worry about the overall system—particularly color screens and their related circuits, which make up the biggest part of the power budget. As a result, it seems that the real solution to accommodating more features would be a battery breakthrough. Yet we're still living off the initial battery developments of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries!
Every now and then, the battery industry comes up with some kind of advance. The last leap forward had to be the lithium cell. Fuel cells are still too big and undeveloped. Besides, who wants to fool around with hydrogen tanks or liquid methanol refills anyway? And forget about solar, unless some kind of fashion revolution incorporates solar panels into apparel we wouldn't be embarrassed to wear.
The key will be a chemical development that will identify some new materials and processes that make cell-phone batteries the equivalent of a Sears DieHard. Well, maybe they don't have to be that powerful. But 6 V at 50 A in the current lithium cell size ought to do it. You electrochemists should get to work.