The most recent flagship smartphones are making a move towards always-on technology. We have already seen quite a few phones offering voice activation while the screen is on or while the phone is plugged into a power source. Nonetheless, full-fledged, touchless, always-on handheld devices remain quite rare and relatively new. The trend started with Motorola's Moto-X featuring always-listening voice activation. The Apple iPhone 6S, released half a year ago, features always-listening Siri. The brand new Samsung Galaxy S7 is a double member of the always-on club, with S-voice activation as well as a perpetual low-power date and time display. These flagship phones are the pioneers, but it's a safe bet that these features will quickly become standard for all handheld devices.
The challenge of always-on portable devices
The main challenge for portable devices with regard to adopting always-on technology is the limitation on battery life. Always-on static devices, like the highly acclaimed Amazon Echo, are quite common; having a constant power supply allows for leeway in the implementation. Portable devices, on the other hand, need to have extremely efficient designs so they won't drain the battery and significantly reduce the standby time or normal use time of the device.
The newly released Amazon Echo Tap is a small, portable version of the Echo. Now you can take Alexa with you wherever you go, but this comes at a price. Instead of the excellent, responsive always-listening technology in the full sized Echo, the Tap, as its name suggests, requires a tap every time you want to talk to Alexa. Obviously, the logic behind this is to conserve battery life, but is it really necessary? It's probably safe to assume that the same factors that forced the Echo to be plugged in are responsible for the Tap not being touchless -- namely expensive, hefty, and power-hungry processors, as I described in this post last year. The Echo Tap has no screen and far less power-consuming features than any smartphone on the market. In that light, it's pretty disappointing that the always-listening implementation isn't efficient enough to get rid of the need to tap Alexa to wake her up. So, what does it take to have great always-on features, and not drain your phone's battery?
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