Friday, September 16, 2016

The Strategy in Smartphone Battery Location

            Once upon a time, most cellphone users could easily replace their batteries should they want to extend the life of their handset. Absent operator error, the decline in the performance of rechargeable batteries constitutes one of the major motivators for handset owners to replace and upgrade.  When wireless carriers subsidized handsets, consumers readily handed over their phones for something better, thereby reducing churn as they extended their subscription for another two years.  They could have replaced the battery, but why bother?

            With the passage of time, cellphone manufacturers and carriers saw the strategic benefit in making devices less modular, with battery replacement costly and difficult.  Most currently used smartphones don’t offer a quick and easy replacement opportunity.  One must use a device to pry open the handset possibly voiding the warranty and damaging the phone. 

             Operators and device manufacturers appear to have elevated the battery hassle factor even as handset subsidies started to evaporate.  Wireless consumers may want to extend the usable life of their handsets, but replacing the first to degrade or fail component has become a major effort.

            On balance, making handset batteries hard to reach has worked out well for both carriers and handset manufacturers.  Until now.  Users of the Samsung 7 would easily have received by mail a replacement battery for their fire prone handsets without any inconvenient and device downtime.  Instead, they must part with their lifeline to the cloud for some indeterminate period of time until a replacement handset arrives.

            Maybe this unfortunate episode will prompt a return to easy battery access.  I wouldn’t bank on it now that wireless users need external nudges not to squeeze additional months of use.

1 comment:

Ben Cramer said...

Technical issue: When someone handles a battery it is exposed to the air, oils on the skin, etc. which can cause damage to the actual power-storing minerals. So a battery has a protective covering so you can touch it and move it around, like on a 9-volt consumer battery. Phone companies removed the protective layer from their batteries to make them physically smaller, all in the drive for even skinnier handsets. But now you have to prevent the customer from actually putting their snotty hands on the battery.

Kind of like how a skinnier phone justifies a new earphone jack design that makes decades worth of functioning connectors useless.