scorecardThe sleek foldable phones of the future are useless if battery life and durability aren't improved
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The sleek foldable phones of the future are useless if battery life and durability aren't improved

Antonio Villas-Boas   

The sleek foldable phones of the future are useless if battery life and durability aren't improved
Tech4 min read
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra iPhone 11 Pro Max Google Pixel 4XL smart phone

Crystal Cox/Business Insider

  • Foldable smartphones are getting most of the attention from tech enthusiasts and the media, and I don't blame them. Foldable smartphones are interesting - if flawed, for now.
  • But it feels like we've forgotten 2 of the most basic problems we're still having with regular smartphones: battery life and durability.
  • Despite innovations, smartphones have only lasted about a day before needing to charge. Battery technology is in dire need of innovation.
  • Glass smartphone screens and glass backs can break easily from even the shortest of drops.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

It feels like 2 of the most basic problems with smartphones are getting ignored in the face of innovation like foldable smartphones: battery life and the durability of the glass that covers many smartphones.

Battery technology is is in dire need of innovation

Smartphone battery life hasn't significantly improved over the last few years - you basically get a day's worth of power, and many people charge them overnight to get a full charge for the next day. Smartphones have been like that for as long as I can remember.

It's not surprising that smartphone battery lives haven't improved so much. They use age-old lithium-ion battery technology that the 1996 Motorola StarTac used almost 20 years ago. No doubt, the lithium-ion battery has seen several improvements over its lifetime, but nothing much has changed when you plug your smartphone to charge.

Battery life is one of the biggest selling points for a smartphone, not whether or not the phone can fold. It's so important that entire companies, industries, and products are built upon the promise to extend your battery life, and many of them are extremely successful because, well, you want better battery life.

Apple Smart Battery Case


Innumerable companies like Mophie and Anker make external batteries to carry around in case your phone runs out of juice. Apple even makes its own bulky cases with built-in batteries to extend your iPhone's battery life.

It's almost an admission of defeat - tech companies still haven't figured out how to make a better battery, and the only way to give you better battery life is with bulky, heavy, and expensive accessories.

I don't think I'm alone in saying a smartphone that lasts several days on a single charge would be far more impressive than one that folds.

We do know of at least one smartphone maker doing something with batteries. Samsung announced it was working on battery technology that uses graphene in 2017, which would let users charge their phones in just 12 minutes versus the hour and a half it takes to charge phones today. It's not longer battery life, but it makes charging less of a hastle, which could lead to better battery life. It's something.

If we're going to cover phones with glass, let's at least make it less fragile

Step outside of common thought for a second and ponder this: smartphones are made of glass.

That's to say, expensive handheld tools we use all day every day that are prone to drop on the ground are made of a fragile material.

Just the other day I dropped the brand-spanking new $1,400 Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra from knee-height onto a concrete floor. Boom. $1,400. Cracked. Take it to the store. Pay to get it repaired. Or don't! And live with an expensive and cracked smartphone.

galaxy s20 cracked 2

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

The Galaxy S20 Ultra uses glass company Corning's 6th generation of Gorilla Glass, a specialty reinforced glass that's designed for smartphones. Corning markets its Gorilla Glass 6 as "the best-in-class cover glass for protecting your mobile device when drops happen." If the best we have cracks from a knee-height drop, then the proverbial "we" need to figure out something else.

The truth here is that most of us want pretty phones made of glass, not bulky rugged ones. And I don't blame you. Plus, to enable features like wireless charging, phones can't have metal backs. They need to be glass or plastic.

Samsung's rugged "Active" versions of its flagship smartphones were made of more durable plastic materials than its prettier counterparts. But they didn't look as good as their glass-laden models, and even I - a proudly pragmatic person - wasn't drawn to the durable "Active" models.

You're probably shouting the solution at the screen: Use a case. And you'd be right. But buying a case that covers up your smartphone's pretty design with cheap plastic begs the question as to why your phone needs to be pretty in the first place.

And now, all the focus of durability is going towards foldable smartphones and whether they could ever be as durable as traditional smartphones. But traditional smartphones don't set a very high bar.

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