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Did LG Solve Apple Watch’s Biggest Problem?

By Jamal Carnette, CFA - Jun 30, 2015 at 10:00AM

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A battery design breakthrough could keep Apple's smartwatch on wrists longer.

Source: Apple.

When the Apple (AAPL 1.62%) Watch hit the market, there were decidedly two separate camps when it came to opinions on Apple's latest product. On one hand, you have the rabid Apple fan base that will buy any Apple device -- iPhones, iPads, Watches -- because these consumers assign more weight to the company's comprehensive ecosystem, designs, and early adoption rather than to the value proposition of any one device.

Then there was the decidedly less enthused camp of consumers, who weren't interested in the product for several reasons, including operating system incompatibility, price, and a lack of a singular compelling purpose to buy the Watch. The latter reason is interesting, because many critics lobbed the same concerns at the iPad, which went on to become Apple's fastest-selling product.

When it comes to device specifics, however, there was one glaring issue with the Apple Watch: battery life. According to a new report from Patently Apple, supplier LG is working on technology that should help Apple address this problem.

A smaller battery and a short battery life for compute-heavy functions
If you've been following the smartwatch business, you're probably well aware that Apple entered an existing market. It was split between operating-system agnostic devices such as Pebble's line, which communicate with both Apple's iOS and Google's Android via Bluetooth, and Android-specific lines such as Samsung's Gear and the Motorola Moto 360.

The newest versions of the two Android-specific watches boast 300mAH batteries, while Apple uses only a 205mAH battery in its 38-millimeter version. Samsung estimates two to three days with typical usage for most models, while, Motorola's Moto 360 and Apple both boast of "all-day" use.

While it appears Apple is correct, with its model reporting mixed-use battery life of 18 hours, the differences of computing functions are quite drastic. For compute-heavy talk time, the phone only lasts three hours, with 6.5 for Bluetooth playback for the 38 mm model; Apple reports the 42 mm watch "typically" features a longer battery life, but provides no hard numbers to support this claim.

LG's newest breakthrough
For Apple, and other smartwatch manufacturers for that matter, the quest for longer battery life runs into scientific realities -- smaller batteries equal shorter battery lives, ceteris paribus, and the watches' form factor essentially requires a small battery. This design restraint makes it harder to improve battery life by growing the size; instead, you must increase efficiency in order to add significant usage time. It appears LG's new technological breakthrough has just done that.

According to LG, its LG Chem division has developed a new hexagonal battery shape that will allow a 25% increase in energy efficiency over the standard rectangular battery. Based on the existing battery in the 38 mm version, this would increase the Apple Watch's reported 18 hours of mixed use to 22.5 hours, in addition to any build out Apple does with the battery.

Apple and LG have actually already collaborated on the Watch. Earlier this year, Reuters reported that LG Display had supplied the OLED screen for the device. And while the manufacturer of the Apple Watch's current battery is held close to the vest, it would be hard to imagine Apple forgoing this solution-oriented technology in the next version of its smartwatch, if at all possible.


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