iPhone battery life

Since the first iPhone was released a few years ago, there has been a consistent issue that has upset users about the iPhone more than any other. That issue has been poor battery life.

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 11.39.59 AMLet’s put this into a little perspective first. The smart phone is a very powerful and feature rich computer.  Start with the fact that its a cell phone first-and-foremost. Digital cellular telephony is a huge improvement over the original analog cellular telephony in every way including battery life. Analog phones would sap battery life very rapidly, especially when attempting to acquire a cellular signal. Today’s digital versions are much more power efficient, but they still are a big consumer of your battery’s precious power, especially in weak signal areas.  Also, taking calls consumes significantly more power than standby.  So, your mileage may vary.

Now layer on digital data network support using the aforementioned cellular signals as well as Wi-FI. Couple that with Bluetooth and the typical phone is running several radios that are usually active 24×7 (even if not all are needed). All of this is before a single app fires up.

Apps can be a big draw on your phone, especially those that remain active in the background and those who use location services and background app refresh (the new version 7 feature that updates apps quietly in the background).

Finally, whenever there is an update to iOS, the underlying operating system of the iPhone and iPad, users complain that their battery life is “far worse” than the previous version. This is typically due to additional features that consume more power, as well as occasional bugs that sap power. However, users expect battery life problems on upgrade and become a little more sensitive to what they perceive as reduced battery life. So this category is a blend of perception and reality.

So, what to do? Anyone who’s gone to the Apple Store and asked a Genius to address the battery problem has typically been underwhelmed with the response. First, they really can’t pinpoint what’s causing the issue. The normal approach is to disable some useful functionality like location services and to shutdown most if not all the running apps. I know folks who shutdown all apps not being used as a matter of policy.

The problem with this approach is many-fold. First, it undermines much of the power of the smart phone. Late model devices can do many things at once, many in the background. Basically, killing all apps reduces the functionality of the device to the level of the original iPhone. The ability to see incoming mail, use location services, have newspapers/magazines download in the background and other features are effectively undermined.

Shutting down apps also turns out to be a bigger power drain than running the apps in the background.

HUH? How can that be?  

Modern operating systems are designed to run a large number of applications in the background. Look at your home computer, there are typically hundreds of applications running in the background, most are system services but some are your apps. The way this typically works is that an app that doesn’t need to do anything simply “sleeps”, which means it sits there and doesn’t get scheduled to be run by the CPU until it really needs to do something. Most of your active, but background tasks are in this state and don’t require much power to remain in this state. However, by killing the app, you’ve now caused some power usage to remove the app from the queue as well as the cost of restarting the app when you get around to using it again.

Also, it is a pain to keep killing the apps. This is a manual activity and smart phones are supposed ease our communications not require a lot of manual manipulation.

Thanks a lot, I now feel like a moron!

Well, join the club. We’ve all been stymied by iPhone battery life. Clearly, Apple has been struggling with it from their stores to their engineering groups. However, there is a bit of light at the end of this particular tunnel. A former Apple Genius by the name of Scotty Loveless decided that the status quo wasn’t sufficient and he dug in deep to understand the problem and come up with solutions. He has a blog post entitled The Ultimate Guide to Solving iOS Battery Drain. What I like about this particular “how-to” post is that it’s pragmatic.   First, it helps you understand if you in fact have a battery drain problem. Then if you do, he provides strategies for selectively addressing the problem. I really like this approach because it’s important to determine whether a problem really exists.

One note: I use the one day rule for my phone. If I can run the phone on most days for one day without charging, then I don’t have a problem. A day is defined as the time between when I get up to when I put the phone on a charger and go to bed. I also keep a charger in my car to give an extra hit, especially if I’ve been on the phone a lot during the day.

Though, I highly recommend reading (and archiving) his post, here is a summary of his findings:

  • Some apps simply do not behave well. Loveless found the Facebook app falls into this category. He recommends that you disable location services and background app refresh for this particular app. I’m sure there are others, but just about everyone runs the Facebook app.
  • Disable background app refresh (BAR)  on apps you don’t care about. You can update them periodically the old fashion way. To do this, open your Settings app, press General -> Background App Refresh and you can shut off all BAR or individually by app.
  • Stop quitting (or killing) running apps (unless you’re attempting to fix a problem with the app’s execution).
  • He gives some tips for helping you isolate email problems.
  • Selectively disable push notifications. Open your Settings app, then press Notification Center. For each app you want to disable feature, press on the app and set the alert style to None.
  • Only use the radios you need. If you’re not using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, shut them down. Same with Cellular if you’re in an area with weak or no cell signal. You can do that you can swipe up from the bottom and pull up Control Center. There are buttons for turning on/off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. To shutoff cellular, use Control Center to enter Airplane Mode, then turn on Wi-Fi and if needed Bluetooth.
  • If all else fails, try the Apple Geniuses again. They have a new tool that will help isolate battery hogs.


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