Smartphone battery dead? UK startup launches world's first charge rental service

Tiny British startup SaveSquared has launched a service it believes can cure the affliction of smartphones and tablets that run out of power while out and about - power up the device by renting a portable recharger from a nearby shop.

The brainchild of four engineers who met while studying in Turin, SaveSquared (or Save2) has set up its first pilot for the service in 12 central-London newsagents and shops, coordinated using an Android smartphone app.

The concept is incredibly simple; anyone who wants to juice up their device on-the-move, locates one of the participating outlets using the app, and hands over £5 (plus a refundable £25 deposit) to borrow the charger until the next day when they return it to any outlet that is part of the network.

Describing it as a portable power network, the team likens to it to the ‘Boris bike’ idea of borrowing bicycles in big city. It is possible to buy one for yourself but renting one is simply much more convenient.

“When your phone battery dies you’re in a rush, with Save2 you just pop into the local shop, rent a battery, then jump on the tube or keep going – then you return it to the nearest shop when you’re done,” said SaveSquared co-founder, Carlo De Micheli.

Only four months into its existence, the firm will use the pilot to gauge interest before expanding the service to more and more locations, he said. There were also plans to sell the service as an ongoing subscription, which would lower the unit cost of using SaveSquared, eventually expanding it other cities in other countries.

“It’s a simple idea, but it’s one that hugely practical and borne out of a genuine need for something to address the status quo. Concerts, sporting events, work – they all create an incredible strain on battery life – and while technologies are in the pipeline to address this they are years away,” said De Micheli.

The idea of renting a device that recharges a smartphone sounds startling simple, almost too simple: couldn’t users just buy a recharger or spare battery for themselves or find a power point?

These obvious solutions each turn out to be less simple than they seem. Electricity power points are an option but take anything from tens of minutes to an hour to get a usable amount of juice into a battery. Portable chargers are available but the affordable ones costing less that £20 pounds don’t hold much charge. As for spare batteries, current smartphone designs seal the battery inside the device.

The founders ended up launching their idea in London under the British Government’s Sirius Programme that seeks to attract foreign entrepreneurs to set up and try out their ideas and technologies in the UK.

Available on Android for now, the app that glues the whole idea together will be released in an iPhone version as soon as possible, the founders said.  And that platform will probably be key for its success because iPhones and iPads turn out to be incompatible with many of the cheap chargers that are now flooding the market.

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