In the United States, we aren’t very good with energy conservation. Our first instinct when we feel cold is to crank up the heat, and we complain about anything short of climate perfection. We leave the lights on and keep appliances plugged in when not in use. There’s a good reason for this, namely that our energy costs are relatively low compared to those in many other countries. If you live on an archipelago like Japan, and must import oil, gas and coal, putting on a sweater starts to look like a much more appealing option as your energy bills sky rocket.

But this trend is changing, and it has caused people to take a serious look at the way that we use energy. The concept of the smart grid is frequently mentioned as people devise more efficient ways to use the energy that we are already generating. With our current energy infrastructure, huge amounts of it are wasted.

While alternative fuels get most of the media attention, simply saving energy would be an excellent step to take while alternative sources are being developed. Using what is made efficiently is just as important as producing efficiently. But what happens if we apply the same logic to consumer technology?

Battery life typically tops the list of what consumers value the most in their electronic devices. A smartphone that can control your home temperature, scan your retina and serve as a remote control is limited in its usefulness if its battery is dead before the sun sets.

According to recent patent filings from Apple, the company is looking into tracking each person’s phone use in order to predict his or her needs and limit the phone’s power consumption accordingly. Presumably, software could be developed that takes note of when you typically charge your phone, when you’re using it the most and when you hardly use it at all. By taking note of your charging habits, whether you charge only when your battery dies or if you keep it plugged in all day while you work, your phone could in essence create a power budget that ensures your power consumption is fitting within the brackets of your typical charging schedule.

By measuring these data, the phone can actually control its power use and greatly extend its battery life, with actions such as closing or limiting power to other apps. At the same time, the system could also work to the opposite effect. By figuring out the user’s typical use schedule, the software could prompt the phone to use more power at certain times when the user wants the phone to be more responsive. The genius of this innovation lies in each phone’s use of battery power to each user’s individual daily life. Some of these benefits are already available. There are a plethora of third party apps that offer similar functions. If you’re an Android user seeking to extend your battery life, try apps like Battery Doctor (free), Juice Defender (free) or DU Battery Saver (free), to name a few. For iPhone users, popular choices are Battery Life Pro (free) and Battery Doctor (free). While these apps can be helpful and do indeed improve your battery life, what’s exciting about Apple’s patent activity is that the same beneficial effects that these apps have could be greatly enhanced if they built them directly in to the operating system. Then, they would be able to perform the functions more efficiently by having better control over how electricity is being used in the device.

A lot of smartphone users are sometimes made uncomfortable by the idea of releasing control over data on how their phones are used. However, I would be more than happy to give up my data in order to have a phone that could plan my power budget for me and make sure I always had a device that was charged and ready to go.


Henry Parrott is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. Tech Talk appears every other Friday in the guide.

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