Apple Inc. is working on the next big thing in the battery world, but the firm’s moves in the space haven’t impressed so far. In a report on the wearables segment, and printed circuit tech for the space in particular, Lux Research said that Apple’s only high profile purchase was a “long shot.”
Tim Cook’s firm is among the concerns trying their hand at flexible and printed batteries. The benefits, should a technology and process be able to realize them, are clear. A printed, flexible battery could make wearable gadgets thinner while giving engineers more room to work with the shape of the device.
Apple joins battery race
Jonathan Melnick, who was the lead author on the Lux report, said that Infinite Power Solutions, a firm that was widely reported to have been bought out by Apple comes in on its Lux Innovation Grid at “Long Shot.” The Lux report went on to say that there were still some promising players in the market that had not been snatched up by a major tech concern.
Apple is not the only firm that has been active in the flexible power cell market. The Lux report says that “Merck KGaA, BASF, and Xerox” have all been involved in buyouts in recent times.
It’s not clear how much money Cupertino shelled out in order to get its hands on Infinite Power Solutions, or what kind of research the team might be performing with Apple. The Lux Research report simply addresses the core tech behind the IPS flexible cells.
Only one of the major firms getting into the printed circuit market bought into a top performer in Melnick’s view. Thin Film Electronics, which was bought out by Xerox, has “best-in-class” technology according to the analyst. It works in a separate space from IPS, however.
Apple isn’t the only consumer electronics firm to buy into thin power cells, though most of the big names appear to be start ups or industrial and chemical firms.
A March report from IDTechEx Research claimed that the size of the market for printed power cells would grow from $6.9M in 2015 to more than $400M in 2025 on the back of adoption, and investment, by major firms like Samsung, LG, and of course Apple.
Making batteries part of an Apple device
Should thin, flexible batteries come to market in the years ahead, there’s no end to the products that Apple, and other tech firms, could use them for. The kinds of power cell that Infinite Power Solutions was working on before Cupertino gobbled it up could make computing clothes a reality.
A jumper that can charge a smart phone is likely a gimmick, but an exercise shirt that’s able to track your health data, including heart rate and blood pressure, could also be made possible if power could be attached in an organic fashion.
Kim Scheffler, Wearables Development Manager at Adidas Wearable Sports Electronics reckons that “Fully integrating electronics into textiles is limited by battery technology today.”
Those are the ideas that have emerged from the popular imagination, but those who work and design for Apple tend to make products that defy previous thought. The next big release from Apple won’t include the use of a printed battery, and if Lux Research is right IPS may never build one.
Years down the line, however, Apple’s big battery breakthrough, should Tim Cook keep pouring money into sector, may form the base of a new product range that will propel sales ever higher. At this stage it’s not easy to tell, but Lux Research reckons that by buying IPS, Apple may have lowered its chance of getting to that point.
Battery tech moves on without Apple
For the time being batteries are big and thick and heavy. Tesla Motors Inc , the firm that speaks about power cells more than any other, has no apparent interest in helping Apple to work on thinner batteries. Tesla may have started off using commodity off the shelf cells, but the firm has developed a range of technology that make its batteries cheaper and better.
Tesla Motors has, of course, very different goals from Apple . Elon Musk and his team want to make power cells as inexpensive and light as possible so that they can sell more electric cars going forward. Apple wants to make small, light batteries that can give rise to a whole slew of new devices.
With Lux Research thinking that Apple’s not likely to make up much ground in that world it seems that Apple may be left behind in the race to build a better battery. There are certain dynamics in place that mean the tech won’t be of major import for the firm unless, of course, one of its competitors manages to develop it first.
Apple may keep spending in the area, as it has in other spaces in which it fell behind, but for the time being Wall Street doesn’t seem convinced that Tim Cook and Jony Ive will be the first to reach the printed power cell gold mine. Whatever firm seems close will likely be the target of buyouts from all over the tech world.
There are a multitude of firms working on a battery that can be bent and forced to fill every nook and cranny of a device, but none of them appear to have hit a point where adoption for the mass market is possible. Production cost, power output, reliability, and yield are all issues that any firm in the space will have to over come before getting their product in the iPhone 8.
Lux Research thinks that there’s quite a few other firms in the printed electronics space that are much more appealing than Infinite Power Solutions. Melnik wrote that there are many “more promising technologies are still available from other partnership or acquisition targets, leaving room for other competitors to move in.”
Apple doesn’t have too many limits on its resources, however, so there’s likely some reason it snapped up Infinite Power Solutions when, and if, it did.
Perhaps Apple has already altered the path that the firm is taking toward a printed power cell. We’ll have to wait and see how Cupertino plans to power our devices in the years to come.