New Semiconductor Processes Offer Power Efficiency Opportunities for Apple Watch

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One of the key challenges for Apple in developing the Apple Watch was figuring out how to maintain acceptable battery life for the device in the face of power-hungry components such as the main processor and display.

With watchOS 3 introduced at WWDC in June, Apple showed off the ability to allow multiple Apple Watch apps to remain active and refresh in the background, acknowledging that its initial approach to managing power and other system resources was conservative but that real-world experience had shown the device could handle more demanding tasks.

In addition to software improvements, future generations of the Apple Watch will need to become more efficient on the hardware level, with new versions of the S1 chip that serves as the brains of the device being a primary target for improvement. With that in mind, we've taken a technical look at what the future could hold for semiconductor technology as it relates to battery-limited devices like the Apple Watch.


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Article Link: New Semiconductor Processes Offer Power Efficiency Opportunities for Apple Watch
 
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Shirasaki

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May 16, 2015
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Surely a welcome change, as, it is basically a watch right? We need to be able to use it over a day.
 

Aluminum213

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Battery isn't the issue with the Apple Watch

It's how slow it is and its dependence on the iPhone
 

JeffyTheQuik

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As transistors begin to reach their physical size limits in modern semiconductor processes
In 26 years in the semiconductor industry (OK, 19 in the industry, and 7 in aerospace), how many times I've heard sentences start that way, and 3 years later, then laughed at the changes that ingenuity has wrought since that statement was written.
 

Xgm541

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May 3, 2011
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Battery isn't the issue with the Apple Watch

It's how slow it is and its dependence on the iPhone
While I understand how you can see that battery life isnt an issue, many of us want a watch that we can wear and not need to charge every day.
 

Trik

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While I understand how you can see that battery life isnt an issue, many of us want a watch that we can wear and not need to charge every day.
Agreed. I would very much enjoy sleep monitoring apps on the Apple Watch as well (as a former Fitbit user). If we could charge it every 3 days that would be a welcome addition. Maybe a sleep mode that ties to the new sleep function on the iPhone and the screen wouldn't wake up without touching it. That should also conserve some battery.
 

avanpelt

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Jun 2, 2010
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I've said it before and I'll say it again: I've been spoiled by my Withings watch. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the Apple Watch; but it tracks steps, running, swimming, and sleep. It's half the price of the Apple Watch. And the best part is, it runs on a standard watch battery that lasts 8 months.
 

JayLenochiniMac

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Agreed. I would very much enjoy sleep monitoring apps on the Apple Watch as well (as a former Fitbit user). If we could charge it every 3 days that would be a welcome addition. Maybe a sleep mode that ties to the new sleep function on the iPhone and the screen wouldn't wake up without touching it. That should also conserve some battery.
Several MR members are already doing that with the current AW. The AW charges fast enough that you can charge for an hour in the am while getting ready and again for an hour in the pm right before bedtime. Even if the battery life improves, you'll still need to find a small window of time to charge it if you want to wear it almost 24/7.

Or they simply buy another AW as you can easily switch them. Most conventional watch owners have multiple conventional watches anyway.
 

lchlch

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Agreed. I would very much enjoy sleep monitoring apps on the Apple Watch as well (as a former Fitbit user). If we could charge it every 3 days that would be a welcome addition. Maybe a sleep mode that ties to the new sleep function on the iPhone and the screen wouldn't wake up without touching it. That should also conserve some battery.
From what I understand 3 days battery life isn't really that different from 1 day battery life. Reason being, users will still charge the watch everyday.

So unless you can extend the battery life to a week or maybe a month I don't see the point of extending battery life.
 

djlythium

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Keep these kinds of articles coming! I'm sure they're a pain to research and write, but keeping up on cutting-edge tech allows the community to more accurately speculate (read: rumor) on how Apple may advance.
 

2457282

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I am not an electrical engineer so some of this stuff I did not get 100%, but in general it is clear that there are still techniques out there to continue to improve SoC design. The question is what is the priority for Apple -- performance or battery life. I think on the ipad, especially if it is to replace a laptop (tim, you still have a little ways to go), performance needs to be a priority. On the watch, I think the battery life should be priority. I really think Apple needs to get to a week plus. this is really the only way that it will be able to add a sleep tracking feature. I can skip one night and track my sleep every other night. But until then, I will simply charge every night and sleep tracking is non existent. And that is just one example.
 

groovyd

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From what I understand 3 days battery life isn't really that different from 1 day battery life. Reason being, users will still charge the watch everyday.

So unless you can extend the battery life to a week or maybe a month I don't see the point of extending battery life.
the difference is the days you don't or forget to or are out and about without a charge
 

Relentless Power

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In 26 years in the semiconductor industry (OK, 19 in the industry, and 7 in aerospace), how many times I've heard sentences start that way, and 3 years later, then laughed at the changes that ingenuity has wrought since that statement was written.
In fairness, sometimes technology gets ahead of itself by making predictions of where it's leading to. Take the Apple Car for example, do you have any idea how many advancements and changes will be made before 2021 will be here? A lot. Six years from now, the Apple Car could reported to fly for all we know.

Industry standards and innovations are always changing, due to efficiency and technological innovations alter the original concept, which allows the manufacturer to generate the product in a more streamlined way, assuming costs are not exhausted.
 
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chrmjenkins

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In 26 years in the semiconductor industry (OK, 19 in the industry, and 7 in aerospace), how many times I've heard sentences start that way, and 3 years later, then laughed at the changes that ingenuity has wrought since that statement was written.
Silicon atoms have a fixed width, and it's no secret that cost per transistor has flatlined or gone up for some processes. Some vendors are electing to go with higher wafer but lower mask costs in FD-SOI. Some are even skipping some nodes all together. Semiconductors certainly have a future, but it's not in bulk silicon.
 
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GrumpyMom

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Battery isn't the issue with the Apple Watch

It's how slow it is and its dependence on the iPhone
Well if I understood the article correctly, we are looking at improvements in the efficiency of the SOC that will not only put less demand on the battery, thereby increasing the battery life (even without any advancement in the battery technology itself), but will probably result in faster processing and less dependence on the iPhone over time as the process gets refined. Right now, the reason the Apple Watch is so dependent on the iPhone is that the battery can't handle all of the apps and functions on its own the way the SOC currently operates. At least that's my understanding of this article and others I've read. Lol, I'm a housewife not an engineer though. I'm open to correction.

Edit to add, the reason it's so slow is because the processes take place on the iPhone and the data has to get communicated to the watch via the Bluetooth connection or wifi. Anyway, the more you can increase the efficiency of the energy movement within the SOC, the more benefits you can start reaping in speed and independence.
 
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nick42983

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From what I understand 3 days battery life isn't really that different from 1 day battery life. Reason being, users will still charge the watch everyday.

So unless you can extend the battery life to a week or maybe a month I don't see the point of extending battery life.
Agreed. Give me enough capacity for a very intensive day, I'll be charging it nightly anyway. I don't go out for a full day with 60-70% battery in my 6+ even though I know it'll probably be enough, I charge it up. If I know I'll be away from a power outlet I'll bring a portable power pack.
 
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JoEw

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In 26 years in the semiconductor industry (OK, 19 in the industry, and 7 in aerospace), how many times I've heard sentences start that way, and 3 years later, then laughed at the changes that ingenuity has wrought since that statement was written.
Those 26 years you weren't dealing with quantum laws of nature.
There's definitely other tricks to use, but there is a fundamental limit to how small something can be.
 

pat500000

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My understanding from searching yahoo and google is that more usage and less power consumption?/?
Semi-conducting isn't my field.
 

827538

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In 26 years in the semiconductor industry (OK, 19 in the industry, and 7 in aerospace), how many times I've heard sentences start that way, and 3 years later, then laughed at the changes that ingenuity has wrought since that statement was written.
You're right, there's always been a constant 'we're reaching the end/limits of lithography and Moore's law' but now it really is getting to its limits. Beyond 5nm which is only a couple generations away it really stops being feasible both physically and economically to go any smaller. I have absolute faith technology won't stop and things will keep pushing forward with stacked transistors, better chip design, new cooling techniques, different semiconductor materials, better efficiency, higher frequencies and so on. But the days of shrinking transistors is coming to an end, we will just change directions. NAND flash cells are evolving in new ways with vertical stacking for example rather than shrinking them. 14>10>7>5 will probably be about the limit. Even the latest reports don't believe we can keep going much beyond that. But ingenuity and huge demand will create new solutions.
Better multithreaded programming really needs to keep improving too.
 
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tommylee84

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What I don't understand is my Garmin fenix 3 hr while it doesn't have a "pretty screen" it does 24/7 hr, activity tracker, built in GPS/glonass, notifications, ABC, temp reader, wifi, so on so forth. I can use the GPS for 1 hour a day and the battery last on average 5 days if I don't use the GPS I get 2 weeks. They have the same battery size and my Apple Watch doing nothing but time and notifications lasted at best 1 day. What is Garmin doing that Apple can't figure out?
 

GrumpyMom

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Sep 11, 2014
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What I don't understand is my Garmin fenix 3 hr while it doesn't have a "pretty screen" it does 24/7 hr, activity tracker, built in GPS/glonass, notifications, ABC, temp reader, wifi, so on so forth. I can use the GPS for 1 hour a day and the battery last on average 5 days if I don't use the GPS I get 2 weeks. They have the same battery size and my Apple Watch doing nothing but time and notifications lasted at best 1 day. What is Garmin doing that Apple can't figure out?
How much bigger is your Garmin than an Apple Watch? My Gear S2 4G capable smart watch has a built in sim and GPS and has health sensors and activity tracking capabilities. I don't know how well it all works yet because I don't yet have the phone that goes with it. But supposedly it lasts about two days. It's huge. It's about half an inch thick at its thickest part. It's wide. I forget whether it's 40 or 42 mm in diameter but it's really big on my little wrist. It makes my 38 mm Apple Watch look petite. One way Android Wear watches and fitness watches get one over on the Apple Watch in specs and features and battery life is by being very large and excluding a lot of potential female customers and men and teens with narrow wrists.
 

JeffyTheQuik

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You're right, there's always been a constant 'we're reaching the end/limits of lithography and Moore's law' but now it really is getting to its limits. Beyond 5nm which is only a couple generations away it really stops being feasible both physically and economically to go any smaller. I have absolute faith technology won't stop and things will keep pushing forward with stacked transistors, better chip design, new cooling techniques, different semiconductor materials, better efficiency, higher frequencies and so on. But the days of shrinking transistors is coming to an end, we will just change directions. NAND flash cells are evolving in new ways with vertical stacking for example rather than shrinking them. 14>10>7>5 will probably be about the limit. Even the latest reports don't believe we can keep going much beyond that. But ingenuity and huge demand will create new solutions.
Better multithreaded programming really needs to keep improving too.
Agreed... I keep thinking that we'll find a way to use electron spin and subatomic particles to further the law.

The thing that impressed me was the growing of transistors on layers other than the Silicon base layer. That lets the chips go where they never have gone before: vertical. In that way, the lines can be shorter (instead of having the RAM farm in a certain area, it can just be above the processing area).

Now, as an outsider, it's interesting to see what the engineers come up with, and I know they have the pressure to keep Moore's law.
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Those 26 years you weren't dealing with quantum laws of nature.
There's definitely other tricks to use, but there is a fundamental limit to how small something can be.
So, what is stuff made of?
~400 BC - Atomos - Democritus
~350 BC - Earth, Wind, and Fire Aristotle (a fan of disco). Oh yeah, Water left the band early to go solo.
1869 - Atoms of different weights - Mendeleev
1897 - Electrons and other stuff - Johnson
1911 - Electrons and Protons - Rutherford
1913 - Electrons are particles that orbit the nucleus of Protons - Bohr
1926 - Electrons move in a wave form - Schrodinger (and his cat... or not)
1931 - Electrons, Protons, and Neutrons - Chadwick/Rutherford
1964 - Crap... Protons, and Neutrons are made up of other stuff... What about electrons? NO! (well, maybe no) - Mann/Zweig
2017 - ???
Sources:
http://particleadventure.org/scale.html
http://cstl-csm.semo.edu/cwmcgowan/ch181/atomhist.htm
http://www.softschools.com/timelines/atomic_theory_timeline/95/

The point I'm making is that at each point, there is the question, "how far down can we go?" and there is always one (or more) discoveries that moves that wall. I'm just open to the possibility that there is something else, while keeping in mind the laws of Nature (including subatomic Nature) that are already discovered.

As a side note, when we try to predict how things will turn out, even on things that have no "choice" in the matter, we have to predict how each of those particles will behave. That, in the context of the Chaos Theory, makes everything just a good (or not) guess. All of the wisest people that I've talked to on the subject were the first to admit that what we know would fill a library. What we don't know fills the rest of the universe.
[doublepost=1470853421][/doublepost]
In fairness, sometimes technology gets ahead of itself by making predictions of where it's leading to. Take the Apple Car for example, do you have any idea how many advancements and changes will be made before 2021 will be here? A lot. Six years from now, the Apple Car could reported to fly for all we know.

Industry standards and innovations are always changing, due to efficiency and technological innovations alter the original concept, which allows the manufacturer to generate the product in a more streamlined way, assuming costs are not exhausted.
Agreed. In the post above, I put why predicting nature is hard, and predicting individual humans and groups of them is even more difficult. Just look at the 2016 choices: Bad, and Worse. Who is who depends on your point of view...