smart technology

Never mind the iPhone X, researchers could soon find a way to make phone batteries last for days

It feels like we've seen less progress on charge time than almost anything else in smartphones. Could software efficiency be the answer?

Another suite of Apple iPhones, another media frenzy. Much has been written about the $999 iPhone X, the demise of the home button, the “face ID” function, wireless charging and so on. Somewhere down the list of improvements was extra battery life, at least for the iPhone X, thanks to its new souped up A11 bionic processor.

Apple says the new device will charge for up to two hours more than the iPhone 7, suggesting 14 hours of internet use, for instance. Battery life on the iPhone 8, on the other hand, appears to be about comparable with its predecessor. Wireless charging, to which Apple is late to the party, makes no difference to the amount of power devices can store.

Improvements to batteries are usually a key part of smartphone launches, as you would expect for one of the major specifications on which consumers judge new devices. Samsung had much to say on this subject when it launched the Galaxy Note 8 last month – albeit less about extending battery life than ensuring no repeats of the flaws in Note 7s that made them prone to catch fire.

Yet several decades into the mobile computing revolution, even the best products are still relatively limited in how long they can function on a single charge. The original iPhone was good for eight hours of internet browsing, for example, so Apple’s devices have only advanced modestly in 10 years.

So far, manufacturers have tended to focus on improving battery technology, packing more and more energy into less and less space. Those fiery Galaxy Note 7s were a cautionary tale of what can go wrong when this energy gets released as heat.

Manufacturers also look to improve other mobile hardware that consumes energy – including the display, WiFi, GPS and the central processing unit. The new iPhones’ improved CPUs and OLED screens have made them more battery friendly, for example.

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But one area that has received surprisingly little attention is the energy consumed by software, or rather the energy consumed by the CPU when running particular software. Neither Samsung nor Apple seemed to make any noises in this direction with their latest launches, but this emerging field could make a major difference to how long we need to charge our devices in future.

Software sap

Decades ago, when computers were thousands of times slower, developers would hand-tune code to near perfection to squeeze out every last drop of performance. But as software has become more complicated – thanks to new features, improved user experience and so forth – this stopped being possible.

Software development is now several layers removed from the raw binary machine code that the CPU deals in. Developers also rely on libraries of existing code because it would take too long to build each instruction from scratch every time. Both changes reduce duplicated effort and greatly speed up development time. But the final code often contains parts that are redundant in a particular app, or it could be improved with more efficient tailor-made segments.

Developers often try to mitigate these disadvantages by making their code run as fast as possible, which in theory reduces energy consumption. Yet this doesn’t always work in practice, since some instructions are more power-hungry than others and can end up neutralising the benefits.

The net result is that the energy consumption of software has increased considerably over the years. Nobody much cared until the last decade or so, since most software ran on machines that were mains powered. This has changed with the rise of mobile devices – while mounting concerns about the links between electricity consumption and climate change have added extra urgency.

The AIs have it

There is another reason why developers were slow to address this problem, which is that the energy consumption from each piece of software was very difficult to measure. This is because each device’s configuration is different. Energy use can change depending on whether a program has run before, or whether other programs are running.

Lately, however, there have been advances. They involve using machine learning to estimate energy use by analysing particular lines of code or software components, and referencing energy data from other programs running on many other devices. Do this well and you can get the computer to do the hard part: search for alternative software designs that make the software more efficient.

Welcome to search-based software engineering. It can be as simple as finding redundant code that can be skipped or fine-tuning the configuration, or it can extend to making changes to existing source code. Our own work has looked at both choosing alternative software components from existing libraries and generating new parts of code from scratch. We even managed to find and repair several hundred bugs in Hadoop, a very widely used software framework.

Our vision is that these search-based methods for improving energy efficiency will be incorporated into what is known as the “compiler” stage, when human-readable computer code is converted into the zeroes and ones the machine understands. These searches would happen automatically and developers wouldn’t need to think about them – their code would be efficient out of the box.

There is still a long way to go, it should be said. The main difficulty is getting the estimates of software energy consumption right, especially for lots of different devices at the same time. But the potential over the next five years looks exciting. We were able to show a 40% to 70% reduction in CPU energy use for a couple of specific tasks, and it’s not inconceivable that this could be replicated over all running software.

Combined with better batteries and more improvements to hardware performance, such as zero energy screens, we could be talking about serious gains on battery life. In future, the leading manufacturers may no longer be talking up incremental improvements to battery life capabilities – instead they could be adding many hours and maybe even days.

Alexander Brownlee, Senior Research Assistant, University of Stirling and Jerry Swan Senior, Research Fellow, Computer Science, University of York.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Also those looking to upgrade their TV to a smart one can get Rs. 20,000 off by exchanging it for the Sony Bravia 108cm Android TV.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and the super compact JBL Go Portable Speaker at 56% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon.in and not by the Scroll editorial team.