Featured Article : Risks or Benefits of Charging Devices Overnight?

Many of us charge phones and laptops overnight but is this good for the battery and is it potentially dangerous, and how can we safely get the most from our device batteries?

Batteries

Smartphone and laptop batteries are Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion). These batteries have high energy density so they can be made small, while their rate of self-discharge is much lower than alternatives (like Ni-Cad for example) which means less charging, they have a high cell voltage, they don’t require priming (for a first charge), and there’s little or no maintenance required.  All these characteristics make them ideal as the power component in our essential, portable electric items.

That said, lithium batteries contain a flammable electrolyte which could be risky in some circumstances (remember the famous Samsung Galaxy Note 7 fires back in 2017?), they need protection (circuitry and special chips) to prevent them from being over-charged and discharged too far, they age (whether in use or not) so require replacing, and they are relatively expensive.

Likes and Dislikes

Knowing how to protect and get the best from the battery in your phone or laptop requires knowing a few basic conditions that batteries like and dislike.  For example:

Your battery generally likes:

– Partial charges that keep the battery between 20 and 80 percent.  This is because a battery degrades at its fastest rate if it is regularly charged past 80 per cent or when it drops below 20 percent. Devices seem to operate best when batteries are around the 50 per cent charge mark.

Your battery generally dislikes:

– Extremes.  This can be extremes of temperature below 32 Fahrenheit (0 Celsius) and above 158 Fahrenheit (70 Celsius) which can degrade the battery, let alone having an adverse effect on the device that the battery may be inside at the time.  This means avoiding leaving phones in warm sunlight (e.g. while sunbathing or sitting outdoors, or leaving the phone in a hot or cold car, perhaps overnight). Avoid the practice of putting phone batteries in fridges or freezers to ‘revive’ them.  Although there are positive accounts of this, it can result in degrading the battery. Charging devices in extreme temperature environments should also be avoided – room temperature is best.

– Being kept at 100 percent charge for long periods of time e.g., if charging at night.  This is when a battery can degrade the fastest.

– Apps being used while your device is charging. Using apps on your phone, for example, while the phone is still connected to the charger can heat and damage the battery and damage the device.

Overnight Charging

Overnight charging of phones and laptops frequently raises questions about efficiency, and safety.

Efficiency

Overnight is often a very convenient time to charge a phone or laptop but, since it only takes around an hour to charge a device, leaving it connected for 6 or 7 hours is not efficient. This is because phone or laptop batteries degrade fastest if left at 100 per cent for long periods of time (i.e. overnight), and a small ‘trickle charge’ is produced to compensate for any energy lost by the device.  This means that the battery is being unnecessarily used/over-used and switching to the mains power via the cable (when the battery is fully charged), could mean unnecessarily using electricity.

Safety

Although there are plenty of horror stories of phones catching fire while charging overnight, many of these appear to be where a phone has been left in a situation where there has been a lack of airflow and where it has been overheated (e.g. by being left under pillows or clothes). Generally, although not good for devices, overnight charging is relatively safe. Tips for making overnight charging as safe as possible include:

– Placing the device on protective/non-flammable surface, e.g. on a plate/saucer rather than on or under books, clothes, or on sofas.

– If possible and practical, take a phone out of the case when charging overnight.

– If you wake up in the night, unplug the devices to prevent constant trickle-charging or use a smart plug that’s on a schedule to turn off at a certain time when you’re sure the battery will have been charged.

Cables

Using high quality (preferably genuine and device compatible) chargers and cables which have correct safety marks (CE safety mark and output voltage that’s compatible with the device) can reduce the risk of fire and/or damage to the device and battery.

Replacement Batteries

Having a replacement battery fitted by a professional, as is often necessary with many new device models, is another way to avoid operational and safety problems.

Other Ways To Treat Device Batteries Well

– Other ways to maximise battery life, device efficiency and maintain safety include:

– Turn off unnecessary services on the device and use battery savers (often suggested by an on-screen prompt) to make the most of each charge.

– If a laptop must be left on overnight, remove the battery and use the adapter to power the laptop. This will put less of a burden on the battery by sending power directly to the laptop.

– Fully charge laptop batteries at least once a month to help the laptop to calibrate its estimator, i.e. to help it to accurately know how long the battery will last.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Mobile devices such as smartphones and laptops are now essential business tools. Although they tend to be regularly replaced, some knowledge of how batteries (and devices) perform best and getting into good habits as regards battery care can prevent batteries failing at important times, can improve safety, reduce costs (replacement batteries and electricity), and extend their life. Mobile and remote working has become essential for many businesses over the last year and with a surge in demand for laptops and phones fuelled by the pandemic, it is more important than ever that knowledge of how to maintain the batteries and devices is made available to improve efficiency and to keep remote workers safe as well as productive.

Tech Insight – The Global Microchip Shortage

With the world facing a considerable semiconductor microchip shortage, we take a look at the causes and effects of the shortage plus some potential solutions.

Why Is This Important?

Microchips are now included in virtually everything from watches to white goods and crucially in larger, high demand, big industry items such as cars.  Many products have more than one chip and as the IoT market expands, so does demand for more microchips.

Why The Global Shortage?

The global shortage of semiconductor microchips has been caused by a ‘perfect storm’ of many factors.  These include:

– Car companies slimming down manufacturing following a 50 percent slum in car sales, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

– Microchip producers switching to smartphone, laptop, and tablet chips in response to a surge in demand due to remote working because of the pandemic, thereby disrupting chip markets.

– Manufacturers of semiconductor microchips, which require huge investment in plants over many years, tend to operate with low stock levels to minimise costs. The surge in demand for chips (particularly for cars) following the first lockdowns therefore meant there were no backup supplies, chip manufacturers would need time to adapt to switch back to car chips, and manufacturers could not meet demand.

– With most chips being manufactured in Taiwan, the US trade war with China during the Trump administration caused supply problems due to sanctions (e.g. US chip firm Xilinx having to stop supplying to China, and Huawei being put on a trade blacklist).

– Under-investment in 8-inch chip manufacturing plants owned by Asian companies. Also, most of the production in Asia is concentrated into mainly the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC) and Samsung, who manufacture on behalf of hundreds of other different chip companies.

– Weather and other events disrupting supply and worsening the global shortage of semiconductor microchip (e.g. droughts in Taiwan as water is needed in chip production), winter storms in February shutting-down the NXP semiconductor plant in Texas, and a fire at the AKM semiconductor plant in Nobeoka, Miyazaki, Japan last October 20. The AKM factory (owned by Renesas Electronics Corp), for example, accounts for a massive 30 per cent of the global market for the microcontroller units used in cars.

The Impact

Examples of some of the main impacts caused by the global shortage are:

– Massive disruption, damage to profits, and potential job losses in the car industry and in car supply chain businesses.  For example, Ford, Toyota, and VW are partially mothballing factories. Car manufacturers are also producing fewer of their less profitable vehicles.

– Phone manufacturers delaying model releases (e.g. Samsung considering delaying the launch of the latest Galaxy Note).  This, of course, will affect the phone company’s profits and competitiveness and will have a knock-on effect towards phone retail businesses.

– Games console shortages (also compounded by an increase in demand over lockdown).  For example, Microsoft has been facing production challenges with Xbox Series X/S. This may have knock-on effects for games console retailers.

– Knock-on effects into the development of 5G networks (e.g. in the UK and US).

Possible Solutions

The main solution to tackling the global shortage has been for countries implementing the costly and time-consuming measures of setting up their own semiconductor microchip factories to try and guarantee at least some increased level of supply, and to reduce reliance upon countries between whom there may be a difficult relationship. For example, U.S. President Joe Biden is looking for $37 billion for legislation to boost chip manufacturing in the U.S. with a view to setting up four new factories in Arizona and Texas. Also, US sanctions have forced China to start investing heavily in its local tech companies such as Zhaoxin, Huawei, and SMIC to help deal with the shortage.

These developments will take time, and with the majority of 2021’s output already sold, it is anticipated that the shortage and many of its effects may carry on for another year.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For any businesses that require semiconductor microchips for manufacturing, or for business that supply and sell goods and devices that include these chips, the near future may hold uncertainty and potentially damaging disruption and shortages which could impact upon operational decision-making, hit profits, and have a negative impact across supply chains.

Tech News : New Amazon AI Tool Monitors Your Business KPIs

In a move to provide more business intelligence, Amazon is launching a new tool that monitors key performance indicators (KPIs) to detect ‘anomalies’ so it can alert the business to potential problems.

Lookout For Metrics

‘Lookout For Metrics’ is the name of the new service from Amazon Web Services (AWS) which uses machine learning for business analytics to monitor KPI’s such as web page views, mobile app downloads, numbers of active users, and income to detect any anomalies and to inform the business/organisation about those anomalies.

Anomalies

The kinds of anomalies / outliers from the norm in business and operational data that AWS is referring to are spikes, dips, and other unusual patterns detected within the analytics that are outside of normal bounds across business functions.

Automated Alerts

Amazon says that that the Lookout for Metrics tool can be easily connected with event and notification services such as Amazon Simple Notification Service and AWS Lambda to created automated and customised alerts and actions when anomalies are detected, such as filing a trouble ticket.

Why?

AWS says that this kind of monitoring can help businesses to better understand customer issues (e.g. churn rates) and take action to improve customer experiences, optimise digital ad-campaigns and prevent overspends, and take action to optimise user engagement by understanding changes in metrics such as new users, app installs, in-app purchases, or retention rates.  The Lookout For Metrics Tool can, therefore, give businesses critical insights to help them make better decisions and create a more productive and efficient organisation, giving them another way to analyse how to keep up with their competitors, and grow revenues. 

AWS also points out that using this tool is a faster and more accurate way than traditional methods for anomaly detection, thereby minimising damage by saving time in finding the root cause of anomalies.  Also, the tool gives businesses a prioritised list of issues, ranked by severity, so that any business can clearly see which issues need immediate attention and which can wait.

Easy To Set Up

Lookout For Metrics requires no specialist machine learning training to start using it and Amazon says that it “connects seamlessly” to popular AWS databases and has pre-built connectors to third-party SaaS applications, thereby enabling the monitoring of metrics and anomaly detection to begin with just a few clicks.

Type of Metrics

The types of popular datasets that Lookout For Metrics can be connected to include Amazon S3, Amazon Redshift, Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS), and third-party SaaS applications, such as Salesforce, ServiceNow, Zendesk, and Marketo.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Having access to accurate and timely business intelligence can help businesses to optimise their marketing, make better decisions, and make a business more competitive. Being able to easily set up an automated tool that’s compatible with popular datasets makes this a convenient and fast way for businesses to get a better understanding of where faults lie and where value-adding improvements can be made, and which areas to tackle first. This gives many businesses access to the kind of expert insights that would be more difficult, time consuming and costly to obtain by traditional methods.  For AWS, this provides a way to show themselves as a provider of Business Intelligence (BI) as well as many other services.

Android Stack Scanner Can Organise Your Documents

Google is launching its ‘Stack’ app for Android, an AI-based scanner that also names and categorises the documents it scans.

The Technology

The Stack app is a result of collaborative work between Area 120, Google’s in-house incubator and the DocAI team in Google Cloud, and the technologies from Google’s acquisition of the education start up ‘Socratic’.

How It Works

When users take a photo of a document, the Stack app scans it, automatically names it, and suggests the right category or “stack,” to store it in.

Stack is also able to identify important information in documents (e.g. the “due date” or “total amount due”) and pull that out to make the document easier to find and access, plus users can search through the full text of documents (not just the title) to quickly find what is needed.

When it comes to (secure) storage, Stack uses advanced security and sign-in technology to protect the documents in the app and a face or fingerprint scan can be added as an extra layer to unlock the app.  Copies of documents can also be automatically saved to Google Drive which means that they are still accessible should a user decide to stop using Stack.

Benefits

The benefits of using Stack are that it provides a fast, easy, handy, intelligent, and searchable way to organise all important work documents such as invoices and receipts. The fact that important details in the document (e.g. due date) can be recognised by the app can make it easier to pay bills on time and can provide different (fast) ways to search for documents.  Also, the app’s ability to categorise and store a document accordingly in effect provides an instant time and space-saving filing system that is also secure and always available from anywhere using a smartphone.

Just The U.S. For Now

Unfortunately, Stack is only currently available in the U.S. via Google Play Store.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

When Stack does become available in the UK, this could be a very useful digital filing system for businesses which is fully portable (a phone app), searchable, secure, and provides a backup on Google Drive if the user decides to stop using Stack at any point.  This app sounds like a handy way to finally organise any piles of paper and any disparate pdfs into one central, easily accessible system.  For Google, this has been a productive way to use technology that it gained through an acquisition to add value to its services, and it is another good example of how AI can be put to practical use to tackle real-life daily challenges. There are many other mobile scanner apps available (Adobe Scan, Clear Scanner, Office Lens, Tiny Scanner), but the advantages of this one are the recognising/categorising and searching elements provided by AI plus the fact that it’s from Google and backs up to Google Drive for futureproofing.

Tech Tip – How To Speed Up Your Phone Charging

If you are finding that your phone is getting slow at charging, here are some of the possible causes and solutions:

– Incompatible or faulty accessories, such as power brick, USB cable, or charging pad/mat (for wireless charging). Choosing a charger or brick with higher amperage e.g., a power brick with 2 to 3 amps could help speed up charging, as could making sure that you are using an authentic charging (USB) cable that is in good condition. Using a different USB cable and power adapter could be a good first try at solving the problem.

– Wireless charging slowing things down. Wireless charging tends to be slower than cable charging, so consider switching back to traditional adapter & USB cable charging (bearing in mind the point made above).

– Damage to or dirt in the charger port on the phone (where the cable plugs in). If there’s dirt, use a wooden toothpick or a soft brush to clean it out. If it is broken, a technician, perhaps recommended by your local phone shop can fix it for you.

– Background apps using power. To stop this happening (Android), use Settings > Battery> Battery Usage to find the apps and disable their background battery usage. Select the app and tap Background restriction. For iPhones or iPads, go to Settings > Battery and tap Show Activity.

– An old or defective battery. To check an iPhone or iPad’s battery capacity, use Settings > Battery > Battery Health and if the Maximum Capacity is 80 per cent or lower, this may be a sign that the battery needs replacing.

– Using the phone while charging. This should be avoided because it causes the phone to charge more slowly, raises battery temperature, and increases the chances of fraying the charging cable.