Batteries are useful but have a few issues. They can only hold so much charge; recharging them takes time if it’s even an option; there are many different types, and you have to insert them in a particular way. Microsoft has fixed that last issue, but you can’t have its solution.
The fix is annoyingly simple, to the point where it’s hard to believe someone hasn’t thought of it first. And if someone else had thought of it, then the days of fumbling around in the dark trying to replace the now-dead batteries in your emergency torch would be over.
So let’s look at how Microsoft fixed one of the biggest gripes with batteries and why you can only look and not touch.
Why You Have to Insert Batteries in a Particular Way
"InstaLoad" Fixed This in a Very Simple Way
You're Probably Not Getting This Kind Of Battery Anytime Soon
Microsoft's Breakthrough May Have Happened Too Late
There May Still be Hope for InstaLoad, But That Hope is Slim
There Could be Other Issues; Even Microsoft Isn't Using it
Batteries need to be inserted a certain way because of how electrical circuitry works in the first place. Small devices use “direct current” (DC), where the flow of electricity is constant and in a single direction. There are multiple reasons why small devices are stuck on DC and can’t use the alternating current (AC) the power grid has—and one of those reasons is battery-related.
Batteries can’t “store” AC; they only work in a DC configuration. Given the reliance of small devices on batteries, it makes sense to have them run on DC. It would also be expensive and pointless to have them convert the DC output of the batteries to AC. Even if someone designed an AC battery, there are other issues standing in the way, like components that require a DC charge to work; LEDs are an example of this, part of the power would be lost, and there would be multiple issues during the design process. We’re stuck with DC.
And if you’re stuck with DC, your batteries have to point in a particular way, with a positive terminal on one end and a negative on the other is the most common solution. Some batteries like the 9 volt have both terminals on the same end but still have to be connected in a particular way, so their charge flows in the correct direction.
Microsoft’s “InstaLoad” found a way to connect the correct terminals and have the charge flowing the way you want it, no matter how you insert the battery. The solution involves adapting a battery compartment, so each end has a positive and negative contact. The spacing of these contacts dictates whether the “positive” or “negative” part of the battery will be connected.
If you look at a battery, a flat end acts as a negative terminal, and an end with a “spike” serves as the positive terminal. It’s this shape that makes InstaLoad work. Both sides of an InstaLoad connector look the same. The flat negative terminal will connect with a flat C-shaped contact, while another contact, designed to connect with the protruding positive terminal, is set further back. Each point of the battery can only connect with the correct terminal. The positive and negative terminals in the compartment are wired in sequence, so they all work together correctly.
The device using InstaLoad still has a single positive and negative contact and uses DC. But whatever way you insert the battery, it will connect with the correct port, and your power will flow in the way you want it to.
Microsoft claims this technology works with all common replaceable battery types, including CR123, AA, AAA, C, or D size batteries. The InstaLoad system also works with rechargeable batteries.
This article isn’t breaking news. Microsoft patented the InstaLoad system back in 2010. Far beyond spending the last 12 years popping InstaLoad batteries into our small devices, most people have never heard of it.
While we can’t know for sure, time and money may have caused some of InstaLoad’s adoption problems. Microsoft launched InstaLoad with a logo program and licensing fees, something many companies do when releasing a piece of cutting-edge technology. The process involves signing a non-disclosure agreement, learning more about InstaLoad, designing a prototype with an InstaLoad battery system in it, and paying Microsoft a fee. All of which are more expensive and complex than just designing something with a standard battery port.
Modern devices don’t necessarily use disposable batteries. Internal rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and USB charging ports are common, even on portable radios and flashlights. A few years ago, AA or AAA batteries would have powered these devices. Even TV remotes come with internal rechargeable batteries these days.
The devices that still use disposable batteries instead of an internal rechargeable battery may be on the lower end of the price scale. For example, a AAA battery-powered radio is around half the price of the $18 model I linked earlier. Traditional battery compartments use a straightforward system that is cheap and easy to implement. Not only will adding Microsoft’s InstaLoad system increase the company making the cheap radio or torch’s manufacturing expenses, but it may push the manufacturing costs and design complexity up to a point where they may as well opt for an internal battery.
If Microsoft relaxed the rules and fees, InstaLoad could finally take off. The system has an advantage over a standard battery compartment but exists at a time when other, even more convenient, options are available. If adding
On the one hand, Microsoft may not have much to gain beyond the exposure that comes with your logo appearing on a bunch of cheap devices. On the other, InstaLoad’s patent has been sitting on a shelf for over a decade, so they aren’t losing anything if they make it open source.
There has been near-silence on InstaLoad for over a decade now, so it’s hard to discern precisely why the system didn’t take off. One potentially telling note is that Microsoft doesn’t even use it.
Microsoft owns the patent and can freely use the system. Microsoft developed it and should know its applications inside out. They designed InstaLoad as a simple solution, so it may not add much expense to a device beyond licensing fees.
Several of Microsoft’s devices, including Xbox controllers and computer mice, can use disposable batteries too. So there are many areas where Microsoft could have implemented its own breakthrough technology. If, with ownership of the concept and all of their resources, Microsoft won’t use the InstaLoad system—why would anyone else?