We’ve been in the business of keeping your devices charged up and ready when you need them for a while now, and over the past ten years we’ve seen the paradigm change from simple replaceable phone batteries to Transformers-esque high tech power banks that can charge all of your appliances at once. As we await the next evolutionary advance (likely a power bank that can drag itself along the floor toward you by shaking its many USB cables like flagella), we decided to take a tour through recent power bank history. So please join us on this little adventure we like to call… Ghosts of Power Banks Past.
The Matrix was a film about a sophisticated (if slightly bug-ridden) computer simulation of reality created by an artificial intelligence to keep billions of human beings comatose. This science fiction dystopia’s hottest piece of tech? A flip phone you could play Snake on.
As undeniably sweet as the old Nokia 8110 was (and is), it couldn’t do a fraction of the tricks even a bargain basement smartphone can manage. On the plus side though, a well-maintained candy bar phone could last days between charges. Not only that, but most models had easily removable batteries. If you expected to go off the grid for a while, all you needed were a few fully charged backup batteries in your back pocket and you were right as rain.
(In fact, we still sell legacy products like these for users who never saw much need for an Instagram-enabled device, and all its accompanying power woes.)
But, as is often the case in the mobile sphere, Apple changed things.
The iPhone Problem
The iPhone is rightly remembered as a revolution in mobile, but early adopters may also recall it boasted a less-than-stellar four hour Screen On Time (SOT) between charges. Despite the grousing this caused, Apple’s engineers had rightly guessed that users would be willing to forego the convenience of a replaceable battery in exchange for the right sweeteners. In this case, those sweeteners were a quantum leap in performance and compact design.
Although there had been some huge advances in battery technology during the period, manufacturers were still hard-pressed to improve battery life. Given how little room engineers have to work within a smartphone’s confines, any little edge makes a big difference. That’s why today’s smartphone batteries often have unusual custom battery designs to optimize the space they use.
Third party manufacturers quickly jumped in to fill the breach with battery cases. Battery cases snapped onto the back of your smartphone, augmenting its capacity at the cost of the sleek, pocket-friendly design people liked about their new devices. In a way, battery cases can be seen as a predecessor to today’s popular portable power banks.
It’s a little surprising they failed to establish a foothold in the market, given that they are smaller than even the most compact power bank and attach directly to your phone with little fuss. Unlike power banks, however, each battery case only fit a specific model of phone, meaning each new phone would require investing in a new case. They were also incapable of charging several devices at once.
The Power Bank Era
Today, the charging peripherals niche is far less schismatic than it was five or six years ago. The major manufacturers have gravitated to a few accepted standards (USB-C, Lightning), and it’s increasingly likely that between your car, office, home and even the coffee shop you’ll never be more than a few steps from a charging station. But power-hungry rich media experiences, constant connectivity and longer trips mean more people than ever are leery of ever going without power.
Power banks can store enough electricity to charge your phone many times over, and higher-end models can also handle your laptop, tablet and other devices all at once. Just last year we took a comprehensive look at how power banks work, from questions about amps and volts to the protections they offer users from surges and fires.
Innovation never rests, however. The next frontier for power banks is likely more wireless charging integration, as this hybrid beast suggests.