Samsung’s Power Play

Battery Life Becomes the Key Selling Point


Stand by for another mobile arms race. This time it’s battery life that’s trending toward the top.

How far will Samsung go to prove its point about the importance of a smartphone’s battery life to consumers? The answer: across the continent of North America. As a demo of the Galaxy S5’s ultra power-saving mode, Samsung showed how two men on an easy-going road trip from New York to California could get by without charging the device. They filmed, snapped, tapped, talked and typed, and still managed to get from the Atlantic to the Pacific without a recharge. The two men cut it close, but made it to a sandy Californian beach with a live phone.

Samsung says the phone’s battery lasted for seven days, with 86 messages sent, 119 photos taken, four minutes of video shot, and 16 minutes of talk time. A cross-country road trip is an extreme example of what the average user might get up to, but will make people wonder why they can’t get by a single day without “hugging a wall”, as Samsung would say. The company is responsive to market research that places battery life at the top of the list of desired smartphone improvements, and is very specifically aiming for what might be the Achilles heel of the iPhone: its shorter battery life. Samsung is also eager to show the advantages of its removable battery, making it possible to swap to a freshly charged pack without powering down — a real solution rather than a gimmick.

Consumers expect to go just as far as they could with their older phones, despite more radios, cores, and data-intensive apps. Samsung and other smartphone manufacturers are making battery life an issue by keeping power a key concern. We expect to see similar marketing campaigns highlighting specifications such as a battery’s milliampere-hours (mAh) alongside real-world usage stats. We note that Xiaomi was keen to announce that the Mi 4, unveiled earlier this week, contains a 3,080 mAh battery, albeit non-removable (see Instant Insight: Xiaomi Unveils the Mi 4).

Better battery life is a convenience for developed markets, but a central concern for many developing markets is of usage, not usability. As the feature phone is phased out with the expectation of bringing smartphones to new regions of the world, the ability to go seven days between charges will be a necessity. It will be interesting to see if smartphone makers take the goal of extreme battery life to areas that are still struggling with infrastructure.

Samsung has taken the lead in driving home the point of battery life, but other smartphone players, including Microsoft, Motorola and Google, are also optimizing power efficiency. We expect to see battery usage become a common marketing angle in the next round of top-tier devices.