Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Is the New Mobile Tech Trend Solving or Bypassing the Real Problem?

This guy understands it's not all about energy efficiency
Photo Credit: ironman.wikia.com
Wired this week had a few good articles about a hot new (old) trend in the mobile tech arena: passive wireless communication between devices. Apple has a new system call iBeacon, and Foursquare is using clever programming to allow phones to automatically check-in. In both cases, the primary innovation is the reduction of battery drain. Seamless passive communication is a key step towards realizing the 'internet of things' and rebooting the failed Grafedia idea, so hooray.

Limits on energy storage have long been a limiting factor preventing engineers from packing ever-more goodies into mobile devices; lithium ion technology and micro-fuel cells are steadily improving, but not keeping pace with other design areas like miniaturization and heat regulation. Squeezing more utility out of existing batteries is great--it's maintaining the pace of advancement everyone's come to expect from mobile tech. The story of human progress has largely been one of increasing energy efficiency.

But in a certain way this trend represents progress along the wrong margin: the real problem is inadequate energy production and storage technology. Even the cool powermats that allow wireless charging are attempts to get around this nettlesome limit. Nearly all historic predictions about the future failed to recognize the great advances we've made in communications and information technology, instead emphasizing the wondrous gizmos enabled by a world of unlimited free-flowing energy. I'm glad I live in a world brimming with social and cultural change, but to truly realize the sci-fi future we've all dreamed about, we'll need more than awesome energy efficiency.

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