By MATTHEW TYLER
Director of Strategic Business Development
There are a number of dynamics that are having major impact on the ever expanding portable electronics sector. Items of portable electronics equipment (such as smartphones and tablet PCs) are incorporating an increasingly broad array of features, as manufacturers look to gain an edge over their rivals in what are incredibly competitive markets. At the same these products need to stay compact and streamlined. Most importantly though, the lifestyles of the general public are now placing much greater emphasis on remaining continuously connected – wherever they are, whatever the hour. When each of these is factored together it leads to one thing – battery lives are becoming markedly shorter and there is a growing need to recharge portable products during the course of the day.
The power bank business, as a result of all this, is positively booming. It is estimated that it will experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 20% between now and the end of the decade, reaching an annual worth of $17.8 billion by 2020 (research conducted by Markets & Markets states). As this market continues to increase in size, greater differentiation is being witnessed and so the suppliers of power banks need to respond to consumer demands accordingly.
Raising the bar
As the market continues to mature, a large proportion of consumers will expect more from the particular power bank products that they select, just simply charging alone will not be adequate. Suppliers will be put under considerable pressure to deliver products exhibiting the following attributes:
- Accelerated charging speeds – The time which the portable electronics product is hooked up to a power bank needs to be kept as short as possible, in order to minimize inconvenience to the user. High power USB charging (with larger voltages being supported) and the advent of the USB Type-C connector (which can cope with increased current) are both helping this to happen.
- Sleekness and stylish form factors – There is clearly a need for the aesthetics of the power bank to be of similar quality to the item of portable equipment it is going to be charging. Consumers who have spent several hundred dollars on a new smartphone that looks ultra-modern are unlikely to be happy if they then have to connect it up with a poorly fashioned, bulky or cheap-looking power bank. The next generation of power bank products need to follow the same development path as portable devices have, moving towards lower profile, sophisticated appearing formats that will mean they don’t look out of place.
- Larger charge capacity – Obviously consumers want to get as much charge as they can from their power bank in relation to its size and its price tag.
- More advanced functionality – Including, as we will see shortly, access to more detailed operational data and also useful operational diagnostic mechanisms.
- Compatibility with the proprietary charging protocols that different smartphone manufacturers have now implemented (such as Qualcomm Quick Charge) will become a necessity – including any handshaking mechanisms that might be needed.
- More effective protection – Given the larger charge levels being carried, smaller form factors and the higher currents involved, this is becoming more important, as it means that power banks can be exposed to greater thermal stresses, etc. (especially if used inappropriately – such as at temperatures that are outside their specifications).
Displaying operational data
Early power banks just had a light on them to show that they had some charge left in their reserves. Later models have sported some form of simple indicator that gives users a rough idea of how much charge they still contain, these are still relatively rudimentary however. Given that the smartphone (or other portable device) they are charging will have a superior user interface available, then why not utilize that? By transferring data over the USB interface from the power bank to the smartphone, various key parameters could potential be displayed. This will heighten the user experience and thus give the power bank supplier a valuable USP that will allow their product to stand out from the crowd.
There have already been cases of power banks proved to be a fire risk, either due to inappropriate use or because the product itself was found be faulty. Standard power banks lack the intelligence needed to deal with issues, such a charging being undertaken while at an unsuitable temperature level. Next generation power banks will need to have monitoring systems in place so that the effect of the surrounding environment can be taken into account. In addition, they will need more comprehensive protection apparatus, so that they are able to respond rapidly if conditions arise that are potentially dangerous.
New approach to power banks technology
Power semiconductor vendors need to be able to supply the manufacturers of power banks with feature-rich, highly integrated hardware that will allow them to deal with the numerous demands they now face. ON Semiconductor recognized early on the way that the power bank market was likely to progress and as a consequence has developed game-changing technology to support this.
The LC709501 Power Bank Platform presents engineers with a highly integrated single chip solution on which next generation power bank products can be based. The compact board offers industry-leading power density and is therefore highly optimized for the space-constrained next generation designs that have already been outlined. With companion apps for iOS, Android™, and Windows® the LC709501 will interface with virtually any smart device. A USB 2.0 Full Speed host controller is integrated and USB Type-C connectivity is provisioned for. The platform can detect different power supply types and is able to offer pass-through and boost charge. It covers output voltages of 5V, 9V and 12V. Quick Charge and Fast Charge operation can be delivered when connected to equipment that utilizes these. The platform has a wealth of protection mechanisms, including over-current detection, over-voltage detection, safety timer, redundant battery protection, thermal monitoring, etc. Its ability to implement adaptive charging algorithms that takes into account to the battery’s state of health, means that the energy storage capacity can be maximized and battery life extended. It also further reinforces the safety aspect.
Once the power bank is connected to the smartphone the innovative Power Bank App is initiated. An icon will appear on the front screen of the smartphone. When the user clicks on it they will be able to get information on the percentage of energy left in the bank, the time until it is fully drained, the temperature that the bank is at, which charge mode that is being utilized, the bank’s state of health (based on the number of charge cycles it has gone through), etc. There is provision for the supplier to add their own branding to this app, by placing the company logo onto the user interface.
Modern lifestyles are no doubt going to result in greater uptake of power bank products over the coming years. Demands for better operational efficiency, improved user experience and reliability, will mean that the degree of sophistication these products possess will need to be elevated. It will not just simply be a power management challenge – human machine interface (HMI), diagnostic and protection elements will also need to be attended to.
By MATTHEW TYLER
Director of Strategic Business Development