The next big challenge for gadget makers probably won't be screen size, or building more powerful processors. It will be keeping devices charged longer. Even the glitziest, most specced-out pocket computer on the planet becomes an expensive paperweight when you forget to charge it. Yet in 2014, advances in battery technology have dragged in comparison to computer chips or touch sensors. Lithium-ion batteries—and especially the way we charge them—have remained more or less the same for decades. Unlike other electronics that become more compact every year, battery power is still dependent on size; the bigger the better, the saying goes.
But a new approach could be around the corner. The New York Times reports that Apple is experimenting with multiple new charging methods for hardware, and may be building some of these alternatives into its rumored iWatch. The three big charging methods mentioned in the report are magnetic induction, solar power, and charging via movement, like when a wearer swings their arms. Mind you, charging a smartphone using magnetic induction isn't new; Nokia phones have been using magnetic plates to generate voltage for years. And recently Apple has hinted at its solar-charging ambitions, most recently when it was awarded a patent for layered-glass technology that allows for photovoltaic charging cells.
Apple of course holds a number of patents in all three alternative charging methods, yet iPhones and MacBooks all rely on cords to charge. The iWatch, on the other hand, is inhibited by size constraints—building a long-lasting battery that you wouldn't have to charge all the time is one reason production has purportedly been bogged down.
Utilizing multiple power sources simultaneously, though, could help Apple overcome the iWatch's small-battery problem. Rumors suggest the smartwatch will have a 100mAh battery, which is slightly smaller than the iPod Nano's 105mAh battery. If the iWatch is going to succeed, it's going to have to be small and pretty enough that people will actually want to wear it. And one not-so-big hurdle to getting people to wear it, of course, is to give them as few reasons as possible to ever take it off.