To iPhone users who (a) find themselves investing in more chargers so that there's one everywhere they go, (b) discover their new toy is too tired to do anything by late in the afternoon, (c) feel as though the iPhone is unable to meet the battery life expectations listed on Apple's own Web site (see image, left), or (d) find themselves scaling back usage of certain capabilities in order to extend battery life, the disappointment should have come as no surprise. Not only was plenty written about the iPhone's potential battery life issues, the truth of the matter is that there's only so much you can ask a battery to do. Like other smartphones, the iPhone's abilities reads like a what's what list of things that have proven many a battery fallible. Here, in no particular order, are the things you can do with an iPhone (or the technologies it includes) that are a drain on its battery:
- Phone usage
- SMS text messaging
- Web browsing
- Real time E-Mail sending and retrieval
- Edge Network Radio (used for most voice and data communications)
- Bluetooth Radio (used to wirelessly transmit voice and audio to and from the iPhone)
- WiFi Radio (used for higher speed Internet communications to support e-mail, SMS, and Web browsing)
- Audio playback
- Video playback
- Still image viewing
- 2.0 megapixel camera
- A brilliant (by all accounts) 480-by-320-pixel resolution 3.5" diagonal display (the larger and brighter the display, the more power that's required)
- Touch screen technology (requires more power than non-touch screens... for example, text messaging on the touch-screen keyboard in a way that keeps the display on full brightness).
I'm probably leaving something out. Bear in mind that this doesn't take into account the sorts of activities that might require more power (for example, working with encrypted information). But even if I'm not leaving something hout, the problem (going back to Apple's original battery life chart) is that no one stands-by for 250 hours straight (to the exclusion of all else). No one will play video or audio for 7 or 24 hours straight to the exclusion of all else. The truth is that virtually all iPhone users will take advantage of some mixture of the features and technology throughout the day.
When handsets, iPhones or otherwise, come with ratings like the ones supplied by Apple, they pretty much mean nothing. First, they don't cover every possibility (for example, Bluetooth usage or the 2.0 megapixel camera, which a great many people will use). Second, the footnotes on Apple's Web site describe entirely unrealistic scenarios. Third, there's no way for a customer to know what the impact of sending and retrieving e-mail every minute or every hour (Apple's footnote claims its "benchmarks are based on the latter; yet another unrealistic scenario) will be on the other ratings like standby or talktime. Until people start writing about their actual experiences, it's pure guess work.
It's not just an Apple issue either. Most all handset manufacturers do the same thing (mislead customers in the same way). When I first got the Motorola Q I've been testing and only used it for voice, it last well more than a couple of days. As soon as I introduced e-mail (via Motorola/Good Technology's client), battery-life more than halved itself. Then, I tossed in some Bluetooth usage (for both phone calls and stereo music listening) and video watching (1. triggers the external speakers which also require power, 2. keeps the display on, requiring more power than usual) and before I knew it, Motorola was sending me fatter battery to keep the Q going for longer periods of time. Now, thanks the bigger batter, the Q isn't the "thinnest smartphone on the market" as originally advertised and it doesn't fit comfortably into its holster (I have to jam it in so hard that when the phone rings, I can't get it out).
OK, so there's a problem. The question is, is something like the the nutrition label-inspired disclosure pictured below the solution to that problem? Do we need better disclosure of how well batteries will work when they're subjected to typical usage given all the things a handset can do?