SHENZHEN, China—Want a bigger battery in your next iPhone? You're not likely to get one, but next year's phones could charge from zero to 50 percent in 10 minutes, according to Steven Yang, CEO of consumer electronics maker Anker.
We interviewed Yang, an ex-Googler who started a device-charging empire, at his headquarters here. Anker has branched out into a lot of different product areas recently—light bulbs, robot vacuums, headsets, and even smart projectors—but it still has a team of 100 working on charging. After all, without power, none of these gadgets work.
"As a dedicated group working on charging, we'd kind of like to think we're the largest," he said.
Fast charging, which has been speeding up over the past few years, is the answer to everyone's frustration with batteries, according to Anker. Now, that isn't just because Anker is a charger company—it also sells a huge number of batteries, so it would be happy to sell you batteries instead. No matter what you read in science publications, batteries won't be getting much larger or more efficient any time soon, Yang said.
"Battery size really getting larger is not going to happen within the next five years, in terms of power density," he said. We've heard the same from others.
That means if you don't want your gadgets running out of power, you have three choices. They can be thicker and heavier, which many consumers consider a deal-breaker. They can be more power efficient, which chipset makers such as Qualcomm are working on. Or you can top them off with more juice, frequently. That's where Anker sees an opportunity.
Next year's flagship phones will be fitted with 50-watt "charge pump" technology using the broad USB-C power delivery standard, Yang said. While there are a slew of competing fast-charging standards out there right now, none deliver more than 30 watts, and they tend to be incompatible.
The key is "charge pump" technology, a foundational technology that's likely to crop up by different brand names; for instance, it might be the basis of Qualcomm's upcoming QuickCharge 5, which we anticipate seeing as part of the company's 5G-capable Snapdragon 855 chipset this December.
"The problem is, that higher voltage to lower voltage conversion, even though it's 94 percent efficient, still leaves that 6 percent of heat," Yang said. "If you're doing 5-watt charging, that's actually 3-watt. Charge pump is able to do that conversion at a much higher efficiency, 98 percent, which is a 66 percent reduction in heat."
Charge pump can also be used in wireless charging, but it will take longer to develop, Yang says, so if you want to charge quickly for the foreseeable future, wired charging is still where it's at.
That means, though, you're going to need charge pump chargers—and places to charge your device. Here in China, that infrastructure seems much more developed than in the US. Many bars and restaurants have "Anker boxes," battery kits that you can rent for the duration of your meal to charge your phone up while you eat or drink.
And because 50-watt chargers will be expensive, phones may not come with them. That suits Yang fine, as it's his goal to drive people away from using in-box chargers anyway. With phones broadly switching to USB-C power delivery (including Apple, which uses the standard with a USB-C-to-Lightning cable), you should be able to carry one fast charger for all of your devices, or find fast chargers set up in businesses where you hang out, he said.
In five years or so, phones may not come with chargers at all, because it'll be assumed you have one already, he said. "We're hoping that USB-C will gradually take over the market, and people will be used to having their own USB-C chargers so phone manufacturers won't feel obligated to add another charger," he said.