Apple

Batteries included: 4 ways Apple could power a smartwatch

Feb. 3, 2014 at 5:14 PM ET

Apple iOS
Apple
Apple's iOS 7 operating system.

An Apple smartwatch could be on its way, according to The New York Times, and it could feature a revolutionary new battery. Or not.

Running out of juice is a pretty common complaint for smartphone users. Now imagine running some version of iOS on a watch that has to fit comfortably on your wrist. 

Yes, Pebble is useful, but tomorrow's smartwatches will likely be expected to run apps on their own instead of just send notifications from your smartphone. That is why battery life is such a big deal and why companies might want to start investing more in prolonging it. 

"The money hasn't been there as far as R&D is concerned," Francis Sideco, a wireless analyst at market research firm IHS, told NBC News. "There really hasn't been a step forward in battery technology to keep up with the other advances with the smartphone."

Regardless, Sideco remains confident that an Apple smartwatch is coming soon. 

"I definitely expect something in the next 12 to 24 months," he said. "It's one of those areas that are ripe for Apple innovation. Typically, they allow other people to make the mistakes, then they move in and solve a lot of the problems."

So, what might power Apple's future smartwatch? 

The sun
Apple is working on a thin solar panel that would fit over the smartwatch's curved screen, unnamed sources told The New York Times. The company has experimented with solar panels before, but in the end they didn't make much sense with smartphones, which spend an inordinate amount of time in people's pockets. Watches, on the other hand, actually see the light of day, making them the perfect candidate for the flexible solar panel that Apple was awarded a patent for.

Close contact
If your device, like the Pebble smartwatch, lasts five to seven days without a charge, then plugging it into a cable isn't a big deal. Doing that everyday could be a big pain for consumers. That is why, according to the Times, Apple is working on an induction charging system that would allow consumers to power their watches by simply placing them on a charging plate.

Movement 
Apple is also looking into kinetic charging, which would draw energy from the wearer's movements, sources told the Times. It sounds out there, but traditional watches, like the Seiko Kinetic, already use the technology. The problem is generating enough energy to power a smartwatch.

Power of low expectations
In the end, Apple might count on consumers cutting the company some slack in the battery department.

"Is the watch able to run apps on its own, or is it just a notification device?" Sideco said. The former paired with 3G or Wi-Fi connectivity could make for a product that consumers don't mind charging. "People understand that those things are more power-hungry than a watch notifying you whenever you have a text or email."

Keith Wagstaff writes about technology for NBC News. He previously covered technology for TIME's Techland and wrote about politics as a staff writer at TheWeek.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @kwagstaff and reach him by email at: Keith.Wagstaff@nbcuni.com

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