The only thing stopping software is hardware


I had the honor of sitting down with Sprint’s CEO Dan Hesse not too long ago. As you can probably imagine, he holds a wealth of insight about tech, and not just telecom.

I asked what he thought was the biggest market threat to software considering how well, á la Marc Andreessen, software has been “eating the world”. He gave an interesting response: “the only thing stopping software is hardware”.

But he wasn’t talking about computing power; he was talking about battery power.

This is actually not that surprising. Moore’s law aside, it’s been well documented that advances in software have fueled advances in hardware benchmarks. But what has not enjoyed an equally successful advance is the battery industry.

What’s the result? Exactly what Hesse was referring to—mobile computers are so powerful that they’re crushing battery life faster than ever before. It’s no wonder Apple is working on flexible batteries, kinetic chargers, and even wireless charging. When they debut their iWatch (or whatever the hell they’ll call it), they’d better have powerful voltage sources keeping it going considering how small the product will have to be. Apple has great engineers, but I wouldn’t place any bets just yet. Tech superstar Anand Lal Shimpi of AnandTech released his own study on iPhone battery power and found that iPhone battery life has increased by just 12 percent in the past six years. The iPhone 5S’s 1570mAh battery is barely more powerful than the original iPhone’s 1400mAh battery.

Of course, it’s not Apple’s fault. They have plenty of other things to worry about, like which lucky Ohioan downloaded the 50 billionth App from the AppStore. The entire tech industry is facing the same issue, and as a result, consulting giant McKinsey thinks that “the price of lithium-ion batteries could fall dramatically by 2020, creating conditions for the widespread adoption of electrified vehicles in some markets.” That’s not exactly a bad thing from a macroeconomic perspective, but what that does mean is that market analysts don’t see the energy capacity of batteries increasing, which would, of course, raise prices of Li-ion batteries.

Someone needs to step in here. Quartz writer Rachel Feltman already thinks Apple could start a “veritable Manhattan Project of batteries” with its hiring of energy storage experts—including solar engineers, which really makes you think—for its iWatch campaign.

At any rate, Hesse better pray to the E&M gods for an answer if he wants to keep Sprint afloat. Though maybe T-Mobile can help with that (emphasis on maybe).