Do we really want longer battery life in our phones?

Christopher Mims over at the Wall Street Journal ($) argues that Apple, Samsung, et al. should stop worrying about making smart phones so thin. Instead, he says, give us longer battery life.

I agree. I’d love to have batteries that last longer in my phone.

Mims points to a survey of consumers which found that improved battery life is the “No. 1 thing on their wish list.”

Maybe, maybe not.

I’m reminded of a study I read about years ago. A manufacturer of washing machines surveyed consumers to ask what was important to them. The company wanted to know whether consumers wanted a more basic, inexpensive machine or a full-featured one with a higher price tag. The survey results overwhelmingly said a more basic, inexpensive machine was more desired among consumers. So the company built lots of those.

The company nearly went broke due to poor sales. It turns out that consumers answering the survey wanted to appear to be responsible, frugal stewards of their household resources. But in reality, they wanted the machine that would do it all, even at a higher price.

It seems to me the analysis offered by Mims is on target. We don’t need thinner phones—we can live with the current thicknesses offered by the manufacturers. (Do we really want a phone so thin it could be dropped down into the window space inside your car door? You just know that would happen to someone.) But we do want improved battery life.

It’s probably too late for Apple to make big changes in the iPhone 7 that I expect this fall. That design work is done. Better battery life in the present form factor of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus would be a big win. But Apple’s engineering and  design teams may have already been told “thin is in,” and have created another sleeker, mind-blowingly thin device.

I would happily trade a few grams (or more than a few) and a bit larger form factor if the battery life is noticeably better. Let’s hope the reviewers out there start clamoring for the same and that the phone designers hear them.

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