Whenever I get a new college grad or co-op student on my team, I usually have to go through the fundamentals of how DC-DC converters and voltage regulators work. We always start with the simplest example of a buck converter. I feel like I’ve drawn the same circuit over and over again for the last 20 years. But the truth is, the fundamental principles never really change. For portable power and battery management, we’re still in the same voltage ranges that we’ve been in for years. So why do we keep making new parts? Well, like you’ve probably heard before, the devil is in the details. And the expectations of what someone can do with a handheld product do change every year.
Whether we notice it or not, consumer expectations and behaviors are (maybe not-so-) slowly shifting. For example, a lot of people don’t have a wired phone in their home anymore. This would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. And the smartphone – so much more than a phone – has taken on so many other functions. I used to carry a portable camera with me whenever I traveled. I don’t really need to do that anymore. I can’t even remember the last time I used my trusty old calculator that got me through engineering school. The last two Android applications I just downloaded were a carpenter’s level and a ruler. (Although to be fair, I am not sure I can totally replace everything in my tool box… I am expecting the “hammer and crowbar” applications might leave something to be desired).
The point of this rambling is to say that all this stuff takes processing power. We have to manage and deliver that power more efficiently, and with less PCB real estate, than ever before. We have to add new functionality, like wireless charging, without significantly impacting the cost of the end product. And since the wireless smartphone is “so much more than a phone” now, it’s a lot more important extend your battery life as much as possible – and to know precisely how much battery life you have left. (Otherwise, aside from not being able to call home, you won’t be able to take that one last photo, calculate your share of the dinner bill, or make sure that picture you just hung on the wall is straight). And I didn’t even mention not being able to watch those movies you downloaded when you still have two hours left on your flight… So what’s new in portable power?
You can easily and accurately track your battery capacity under varying load conditions with a simple battery fuel gauge device…
You can efficiently and accurately power a high current microprocessor that uses dynamic voltage scaling…
You can add Qi-Compliant (industry standard) wireless battery charging capability with a single-chip wireless power receiver…
You can optimize display performance for a handheld device with the same sophisticated features you might see in a high-end computer product…
And you can even make sure that your broadband wireless radio power amplifier is running at peak efficiency across all operating conditions…
And lots more too! So to summarize all this new stuff, TI has just released a new Power Management Selection Guide for 2012. Of course, every year, TI launches many new components for a diverse range of applications… more efficient, more cost-effective, easier to use, or smaller than last year’s models. The devil may indeed be in the details… but we’re doing what we can to keep things simple for our customers.
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