Speed Sells

Power isn’t as sexy as performance, but it’s more important to a very large class of users.

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The good news is that the new iPhone battery lasts at least as long as the old one. The bad news is that Apple hasn’t offered double battery life and equivalent performance as an option for mobile users that need extended times between charges.

They’re not alone, of course. At the Intel Developer Forum this week, Intel Chief Product Officer Dadi Perlmutter talked about voice and gesture-recognition interfaces that will replace the touchscreen using the same power budget. He didn’t talk about a machine that doesn’t need to be plugged in for two days, even though the company is working on prototype chips that run at extremely low power.

There’s nothing new here, of course. The electronics industry has been on a “performance is sexy” path since the early days of computers. IBM sold new mainframes on the assumption that they were faster than previous generations, and PCs moved from the 8086 to the 286, 386, 486 and Pentium based upon faster performance. Just shrinking feature sizes before 90nm also provided a big boost in performance, and in those days no one worried about the size of the battery or how much juice was flowing through the power cord.

It’s easier to sell speed than other features, which is why marketing departments have always pushed more instructions per second, higher throughput speeds, faster download and boot-up and connection speeds. Even advertisements for fewer dropped calls are really performance as well as coverage metrics.

But there’s a whole class of users—mostly business users with plenty of cash—who are equally concerned with battery life. Not having to charge a phone or a laptop computer, or at least not having to plug it in for extended periods of time, are very important features. They’re not sexy like sportscars. They’re more like trucks that can haul long distances reliably. But there’s a good reason why people will buy them.

For companies that only focus on speed, there clearly is a ready and willing market of consumers. But they’re missing another very large market opportunity—the people who have work to do and who need to get the job done, no matter where they are. Keep an eye on the dark horse chipmakers over the next few years.