Apple's 'Batterygate' end-game: Do nothing?

Summary:'Batterygate' continues, even after the battery fix update of iOS 5.0.1 last week. But Apple cannot stand idly by as its users struggle with draining battery life. Or can it?

Apple is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

In the space of just over a week, Apple not only admitted the iPhone 4S had a battery bug, but rolled out a fix that was believed to have solved the problem: one of the fastest bug updates that the company has ever rolled out.

What a wonderful day for the company, and therefore the world.

But complaints amassed once again over the end of last week and the weekend, with many taking to the web to affirm that Apple's bug fix did absolutely nothing for many.

Apple later confirmed this by issuing a statement to acknowledge "a few remaining issues" with the smartphone's battery.

The sugar pill had not worked.

(Source: Flickr, CC)

If we pair comparisons with 2010's 'Antennagate', a quick-fix solution solved the problem for most. The free bumper was in effect a sugar pill for a hysterical hypochondriac condition that the media whipped up into a raging frenzy.

Balance was thus restored but in part only because Apple's reassuring words gave consumers no more fire to fight with.

2011's 'Batterygate' is likely to play out in a similar fashion. Tim Cook can arrive on stage, speak to an audience of the elite press technorati, speak calmly and lovingly into his shirt-attached microphone, and apologetically crucify the company that he only recently took over on the world's stage.

He can then tell the world's media "how much Apple loves its customers" and will do anything to please and appease, and a resolution will be announced to the company faithful.

Should Apple want to take to the extreme and offer a mass recall as it recently arranged with the first-generation iPod nano, it will need to find the fault and initiate the recall of the smartphone in question, at not only great cost to the company in terms of share price and the losses it will suffer in order to do so, but the arguably more important cost to the company's reputation.

Or, Apple can simply do nothing, keeping its faithful customers in the dark, longing for the iPhone 5.

In about a year's time, customers will have almost forgotten the issue with the battery, and after a series of software fixes and mass returns, the silence will be deafening. After all, the media can only go on about quite literally the same story so many times.

If Apple remains steadily quiet, and ignores the pleas of its customers, eventually problems with iPhone 4S will fall silent.

Next year, when the iPhone 5 is announced and subsequently released, it will be by far the most popular smartphone the company has ever sold, with the Apple faithful returning to trade in their bug-ridden iPhone 4S.

Why 'nothing'?

Apple is reportedly working on a new advanced battery chemistry, with the intention of creating a smartphone with enough battery life for the day to run a power-intensive 4G LTE connection.

The supposed iPhone 5, which was thought to have included the 4G technology, was simply not ready to hit the market. According to sources speaking to the Business Insider, the phone was "scrapped" within months of the next iPhone hitting the market, with Steve Jobs reportedly not happy with the design and other features.

But it lacked one crucial component: battery life.

With this in mind, the iPhone 4S was either a fallback option as the company's consolation prize, or it was thrown together seemingly at the last minute, with a few minor changes incorporating existing hardware from the previous iPhone 4 and the current iPad 2.

Apple's intention is all but without a doubt to release a 4G compatible phone, but the company has been hesitant to integrate technology not seen as worthwhile in the present or ever-so-slightly upcoming market.

4G still has to prove itself in Apple's eyes before it releases a compatible device. But the technology for a 4G-supported battery, combined with the slim aesthetics of the iPhone is still a long way off.

The current non-replaceable 1400 mAh battery in the iPhone 4S (virtually the same as its predecessor, with only a 0.05 watt/hour increase according to iFixit) fits in the casing but would never be sufficient for 4G use; it runs out of steam even after only a few hours on 3G under heavy use, some have found.

To be fair to Apple, all modern Lithium Ion batteries are simply not good enough for modern 4G phones, which is why so many need huge, clunky battery packs for 4G smartphones, because you cannot go for a working day's charge without one.

According to current technology in use, the problem of current battery chemistry just cannot be solved when combined with Apple's design aesthetics. The two are in direct conflict with one another.

Apple rolled out iOS 5.0.1 and will in the next few days, or the coming week, issue iOS 5 5.0.2, thought to address the last remnants of an ongoing battery issue. The following update from that will continue to "optimise" the battery, and further updates will continue to use different adjectives to describe improvements, such as "assist performance" and "elongate" battery life.

But Apple knows by this point that all it can do is continue to tweak the software -- the only control that it has over the smartphone en masse once the smartphone reaches the hands of its users -- to cumulatively lengthen battery life.

Even Apple has not yet reached the point where it can defy the laws of physics.

All Apple can do now, beyond a share price dropping feat of recalling its phones from the market, is continually issue bug fix sugar pills.

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Topics: Mobile OS, Apple, Hardware, Operating Systems

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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