As this photo of the original Mophie Juice Pack and Tylt’s Energi for iPhone 6 shows, iPhone battery cases haven’t changed much over the years. They’ve existed for almost as long as iPhones, and remained ubiquitous due to Apple’s continued focus on thinness over longevity. That hasn’t been great for consumers: as 9to5’s Seth Weintraub put it, people are more impacted by their phones’ battery life than an extra 2mm of thinness.
It took until 2014 for Apple to offer one iPhone model — the iPhone 6 Plus — with all-day battery life, though you have to be willing to accept a much larger footprint to get that. By comparison, the smaller and reportedly more popular iPhone 6 improved only around 7% upon the iPhone 5s in run time, so the typical iPhone user isn’t seeing much of an improvement over prior models.
With a variety of alternatives at Apple’s disposal, including some major chip improvements that are just around the corner, we wanted to pose two questions to our readership. Should Apple take a break from slimming down iPhones to focus on improving battery life? Or should it instead focus its efforts on making battery cases better? Read on for our thoughts, and share yours in the comments section below…
Option 1: Fix the iPhone
Apple’s easiest option is to fix the iPhone itself — to use its 2015 or 2016 iPhone event to unveil a new model with all-day battery life. It sounds pithy, but calling this “easy” for Apple is actually an understatement: recall how quickly Apple retooled the iPad 2 to release the third-generation iPad, which was a thicker model with a larger battery; it has made smaller housing tweaks just to swap connectors and take fractions of a millimeter off of MacBooks. Just as Apple revealed that there were prototypes of the iPhone 6 in every 0.1″ increment up to over 6″ screens, you can be certain that there are also prototypes with larger batteries. Releasing one of them would hardly be difficult.
Many people — myself included — would have no issue whatsoever if the iPhone 6S was 2-3mm thicker and could last an entire day between charges. Historically, that’s not the way Apple has done things. There could be a 2016 iPhone 7 that was narrower and shorter but a hint thicker, but it’s more likely that there will be a 2015 iPhone 6S with the exact same dimensions outside and a more power-efficient CPU inside.
If that’s true, the next iPhone could jump in claimed run time from 11 to 13+ hours without changing size. Apple’s upcoming A9 chip will reportedly be built on a 14- or 16-nanometer FinFET manufacturing process, which depending on the manufacturer will yield a 20% performance boost/35% power reduction (Samsung 14-nanometer LPE) or 40% performance boost/60% power reduction (TSMC 16-nanometer FinFET Plus). If Apple held performance the same between generations, which it never does, the next iPhone would jump to a nearly 15-hour run time. Similarly, if the chip shrinks — A Samsung-made A9 would, a TSMC-made A9 wouldn’t — there will also be a little extra space inside the iPhone for a slightly larger battery, if Apple wants to improve it.
But the key to an iPhone 6S or 7 with all-day battery life is Apple’s desire to make it happen, and there isn’t much evidence that Cupertino cares; some people would argue that Apple has stretched out battery life gains to incentivize biannual upgrades. Instead, Apple has worked to shave every possible fraction of a millimeter off the iPhone 6, releasing it at 6.9mm versus 7.1mm for the iPhone 6 Plus, a difference no customer would actually care about. Both iPhones were thinned so much that their cameras stick out of their backs and their frames are susceptible to bending near their volume buttons. Apple could kill several birds with one stone by increasing the housing enough to tuck the camera in, reinforce potential bend points, and boost the battery size.
It wouldn’t hurt for Apple to improve the iPhones’ recharging technology at the same time. iPads are already capable of recharging 50-100% faster than iPhones, which still take nearly 2.5 to 3 hours. Adopting a technology akin to Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 could cut iPhone recharging times in half; numerous competing smartphones have already done this, with great results.
Option 2: Improving Battery Cases
Unless Apple changes its 2015 or 2016 iPhone, our best hope for a superior battery experience is better third-party battery cases. We’ve covered all of the major options for iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in our guide to the best iPhone 6 battery cases, but they’re all extremely similar to one another — nearly impossible to visually tell apart at a distance, and substantially the same in functionality.
What could Apple and the companies improve?
(1) Size. The electronics required to connect the iPhone to the battery are typically housed towards the rear bottom of the case, and add more to the size of the iPhone than anything else. Apart from adopting newer, better battery technology, shrinking this part will have the biggest chance of reducing battery case sizes. A switch to inductive iPhone charging could help, too.
(2) Better case recharging. It’s rare for an iPhone battery case to recharge itself at faster than the 1-Amp speed Apple specifies for iPhones; with 2-Amp support, Lenmar’s Maven is a notable recent exception. If this became more widespread, and Apple allowed the iPhone to charge simultaneously with the case — which it currently does not — recharging times could be substantially reduced.
(3) The Connector. As 9to5Mac previously reported, Apple is planning to let battery case makers include female Lightning connectors instead of micro-USB ports at some point later this year. If this doesn’t make battery cases bigger or more expensive, it will reduce the need to carry multiple cables around, and hopefully also improve…
(4) Dockability and Car Accessory Compatibility. Although docks have declined a lot in popularity over the past few years, it would be great if the same dock could accommodate bare, encased, and battery-encased iPhones. Ditto on car mounts, which are increasingly finding ways to use magnets for convenience, and would be handy to use with battery cases.
(5) Better headphone compatibility. Virtually every iPhone battery case limits access to the headphone port, requiring an adapter. A redesigned, smaller insert could eliminate the dangling cable for users who need headphone port access.
(6) Reusability. Once you upgrade your iPhone, your battery case effectively becomes useless — with different dimensions than your new device, it’s something you’ll have to sell, dispose of, or toss in a drawer. It would be great to have an option to continue to make use of old battery cases in some way.
Note: In an article titled Our One Wish: Longer Battery Life, the Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Mims suggests that “making gadgets” — notably iPhones — “thinner and lighter is a trend that has outlived its usefulness,” as reductions in size and weight are becoming counterproductive to the functionality users need. He predicts that “in the not too distant future, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook or his equivalents at other phone makers will… tell us the phones they’re offering are, under real-world circumstances, going to last not for hours, but for days.”
What do you think, readers? Should Apple focus on improving the iPhone? Battery case technology? Or neither — is everything good enough for you now as-is? Share your thoughts below!