Sony has announced a partnership with California-based charging company, Qnovo, which will see it utilizing the adaptive charging functionality into current and future Xperia smartphones. Qnovo use a number of techniques to carefully optimize the voltage and current being pushed into a battery in order to avoid damaging the lithium cells. Now, whilst all smartphone manufacturers (and indeed all devices that recharge batteries) contain control mechanisms so as to avoid harming the battery, these are shall we say less sophisticated: in simplistic terms, over a period of time and as a battery is used, the internal components break down (or rather break off) and so the battery becomes less able to hold its charge: it cannot deliver the same amount of current over the same amount of time. High temperatures are especially harmful for battery cells as they accelerate this aging process, and could ultimately cause the battery to explode. This is why smartphones and other devices that recharge have a thermal cut off embedded into the charging circuit, which can be more or less effective. For those of us who were able to witness this at school, let's not forget that lithium is the metal that exploded very easily.
Today's smartphones have larger screens, more powerful chipsets, more memory and more sensors all using battery power. To combat these, we have more sophisticated software, physically larger and more capacious batteries combined with higher speed charging technologies. From Qualcomm's Quick Charge to OnePlus's Dash Charge, there are many ways to quickly recharge our devices, 500 mA, 5.0 V solution offered by the traditional Micro USB, which could take all night to recharge a 2016 flagship device. One disadvantage of these fast charging technologies is that they produce a lot of heat whilst charging the device: heat is a byproduct of storing energy into a battery, and the more heat that is produced, the tougher it is on the battery. Some fast charging technologies aim to reduce the wear and tear on a battery by clever charge management, such as OnePlus's Dash Charge, which aims to keep the device cool whilst being recharged and gaming for example. Qnovo's solution uses their patented Adaptive Pulse Modulation technology, which "injects charge packets both to measure a cell's health and to adaptively modify its charging current." On-device software then assesses the condition of each battery cell and can adjust the charging regime to as to reduce possible damage and maximize performance.
Sony's deal with Qnovo will provide several benefits to customers. Firstly, Qnovo includes fast charging technologies, meaning that the just-announced Xperia XZ and X Compact, which use the technology, still benefit from high performance recharging. However, Sony are using Qnovo technology because they recognize that customers are keeping devices for longer, but batteries are becoming exhausted after two years and they wish to extend the lifetime of the batteries in their devices. Some of the techniques that Sony and Qnovo will use include how the handset will learn when customers take the device off charge to use, and so will defer recharging until this time to avoid the wear and tear of keeping a battery at 100% for a period of time (such as overnight). Clearly, Sony have seen how the market has changed and how customers are rethinking the concept of spending several hundred dollars, pounds or euros onto a new smartphone every couple of years. They cite research by Fluent and eMarketer that shows almost half of American customers are planning on waiting at least three years before upgrading a device and a similar survey from Gallup suggests a similar ratio of customers keep hold of their old device until it no longer works (either through a fault or being unable to run the latest applications). Naturally, Sony would like customers to buy a new device, but accept that for many people this is unrealistic. Let's hope that their new devices are supported with software updates for as long as the battery is good.