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Can your wearable's sucky battery life be saved? Maybe by streaming to a smartphone

Mark Hachman | July 10, 2015
Is there any wearable user who's not completely happy with his or her battery life? Yes? Aaah! Stop shouting! You'll be happy to hear that Microsoft Research believes they've found a possible solution.

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Is there any wearable user who's not completely happy with his or her battery life? Yes? Aaah! Stop shouting! You'll be happy to hear that Microsoft Research believes they've found a possible solution.

According to a paper that Microsoft Research employees Ranveer Chandra and Anirudh Badam will present at the USENIX Technical Conference this week, eliminating the need to read and write data to a wearable's onboard flash memory can significantly improve battery life in a wearable like a smartwatch. 

The research comes at a time when many are wondering whether the wearable market is languishing in a pool of apathy--in part because more sophisticated smartwatches chew through battery life quickly. Fitness trackers like the Fitbit have battery life measured in days, but the Apple Watch can expire by early evening. All this requires a solution to get the wearable market back on track. 

That sounds simple enough, but what should a smartwatch do with the data, then? The answer, the researchers say, is to stream it to a phone via a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection. Of course, that requires a phone to be within wireless range at all times, or frequently enough that the data stored in the bits of a smartwatch's memory can be relayed to a phone before it needs to be written in flash memory. 

"Everyone has been thinking of reusing what exists for mobile devices," Chandra said, according to a Microsoft research publication, referred to via Neowin. "What we're saying is, 'It's a different paradigm. It's a different usage scenario.'"

According to the research, the two tested their work on an Android phone and a compatible wearable device. They found that their system significantly improved the wearable's performance and battery life while having only a minimal effect on the smartphone's battery life, according to Microsoft. 

A member of the Microsoft Band team says there are no plans as yet to implement the technology in its own wearable. (Microsoft's Band is somewhat infrequently updated, anyway.) 

Why this matters: It's not clear how much power was saved in either the smartphone or wearable, let alone how much data was being read and written--a few megabytes? Entire songs? Faster, low-power flash memory could also save battery life. Still, with consumers beginning to wonder why they've spent $200 to avoid taking out their phones, the wearables market needs improvements like this to keep the faith.

 

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