Will Apple's boost to iPhone's battery life be enough?

Will Apple's boost to iPhone's battery life be enough?

Summary: Apple has answered critics who, even before an iPhone was in their hands, were giving its battery life extremely low marks. Fellow ZDNet blogger Jason O'Grady reports:In a last minute surprise Apple has posted new information about the iPhone battery and touchscreen that is sure to please potential buyers.

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Apple has answered critics who, even before an iPhone was in their hands, were giving its battery life extremely low marks. Fellow ZDNet blogger Jason O'Grady reports:

In a last minute surprise Apple has posted new information about the iPhone battery and touchscreen that is sure to please potential buyers. In a press release posted this morning Apple claims that iPhone now gets up to eight hours of talk time.

This is significantly more than the 5 hours of video/talk time and 16 hours of audio playback that Apple estimated when iPhone was announced at Macworld Expo 2007 in January.

The release O'Grady referred to says:

iPhone will feature up to 8 hours of talk time, 6 hours of Internet use, 7 hours of video playback or 24 hours of audio playback. In addition, iPhone will feature up to 250 hours—more than 10 days—of standby time.

Good power management has always been central to the success of any mobile device. If a notebook, PDA, or cell phone proves to magically run for what seems like forever (as though it were plugged into the wall), users flock and sales skyrocket. Compared to business users, consumers seem to be a little more tolerant of questionable battery life. It just comes with the turf. But for crack-berry like business users, never is a good time for their devices to run out of power.

For business users, never is also a good time to have two or more devices hanging off your belt. Not that Apple was marketing to enterprise people, but in the iPhone, Apple's marriage of video iPod to a cell phone has certainly sparked the interest of many a business user who want to have it all in one device (Videos and still images 'playback' of their kids, a music collection, E-mail, and of course, telephony not to mention a 2 megapixel camera) and who wants it with the type of user interface that Apple is legendary for.

These are the same reasons I was first interested in the Motorola Q. Although its sound doesn't seem to work when playing back music or movies through its speakers, I can't tell you how many times I've used the Q to show movies of my kids (sure beats whipping out your wallet and unfolding a bunch of pictures). By the way, a lot of those "movies" were created using Microsoft's free PhotoStory utility (which brings still images to a nice life). It's not exactly a business usage, but then again, what business person wouldn't appreciate being able to show movies of their kids (or stills if you wish) on the same device that keeps them in touch with their colleagues.

With the best BlackBerries at the time coming up woefully short in the multimedia department, the Q was the first device that gave me everything I wanted: A keyboard with keys spaced far enough from each other so that my big thumbs could thumb them; Always-on e-mail (in addition to supporting Microsoft Exchange and the POP3 protocol, software can be loaded into it to support either Good or Research in Motion's synchronization servers); MP3 playback capabilities, Bluetooth (support wireless stereo headsets), and of course, video playback.

But, in addition to a string of disappointments that I've chronicled here, the real Q killer -- the one that every Q owner I've met gripes about -- is battery life. Even with a double-sized battery (1. costs extra, 2. makes for a poor fit in all of the belt holsters designed for the Q) , when I'm pushing the Q to its limit, a fully-charged double-battery gets me around 10-13 hours before it's dead. Sure, we're asking these devices to do way more than we used to. But for a handset to not last the day (a typical business travel day where you're up for breakfast at 6am and not back to your hotel room where the charger is until after dinner) is unacceptable. I can't tell you how many times I've started that call (while standing outside the restaurant) to my wife with "Honey, I'm on zero battery, so if I lose you, I'll call you in the morning).

What's the relevance of this to the iPhone? Actually, my new gripe isn't about the iPhone in particular. As can be seen from Apple's press release though, phone manufacturers like to break the battery performance of their handsets in categories of talk time, standby time, Internet use, video and audio playback. But, when you consider the tasks that the device is capable of and the fact that people will do those tasks (or should be doing them... otherwise, why else own this or that phone), these numbers are pretty much useless.

It's amazing how much longer the Q's battery lasts once I stop doing e-mail (in other words, I shut down e-mail communications). In fact, there was a point where my phone was collecting e-mail through two different servers -- one was the corporate e-mail server (flowing into Good's sucky client for Windows Mobile) and the other was Verizon's servers which end-users can use to keep their handsets in synch with any POP3 account (flowing into Pocket Outlook). I had it tied to my Gmail account. I might as well have drilled a drain in the back of the battery for all the juice to flow out of.

Now that I've trimmed it back to just the Good client, things have improved. But the lesson was pretty clear. The more usage the radio(s) get (I'm also using my Bluetooth headgear quite a bit), the faster the battery is going to drain down. One always on e-mail system will keep a radio pretty busy. Two? Busier. Toss in the Bluetooth radio, some text messaging, Web browsing, audio and video playback, not to mention some standard fare phone calls and now, you get to see why breaking battery life down into the simple categories like talk time, standby time, audio playback, video playback and Internet use is, well, useless.

As I said earlier, don't blame Apple for this mess. It's a problem with all phone manufacturers. Apple simply provoked the discussion since it's the iPhone that's center stage in today's discussion about battery life. Tomorrow, it will be the next BlackBerry. Or some other handset.

The good news is that Apple improved the battery life. Any improvement is better than no improvement. What that means though, we won't have any idea until it's in the market having its wings stretched. What it also means is that it's difficult if not impossible to hold handset manufacturers accountable for these estimates.

Topics: Hardware, Apple, Collaboration, iPhone, Mobility

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38 comments
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  • Fear

    A superb article in New York Magazine, with a quote that perfectly explains much of the attitude toward the iPhone exhibited by ZDNet bloggers:

    http://nymag.com/news/features/33524/
    Apple?s competitors, by contrast, find the prospect of the iPhone terrifying. ?The entire f*cking Western world hopes that it?s a case of imperial overstretch,? says the CEO of one of the planet?s largest communications companies. ?But everybody is quietly saying, er, what if people want to buy a $500 phone? What if, er, people have been waiting for a device that does all these things? What if this thing works as advertised? I mean, my God, what then??
    tic swayback
    • I agree

      If Apple has done another iPod then this will really upset the mobile phone
      market. With prices dropping and if it works how it does in the ads which I believe
      is very possible then I believe the iPhone will be huge.

      While this is currently competing with other smart phones and business phones I
      don't think that is the market Apple are aiming for. The average consumer doesn't
      buy smart phones because they are too complicated or too business orientated. If
      the iPhone works as advertised and really does have the software to do that and
      the price drops then people will go crazy for this. The non-replaceable batteries
      haven't been an issue for the iPod. Further it is not about features or hardware.
      Most phones have got the features and hardware, this is about the software and
      how these features are utilized. The iPod didn't have loads of features, because
      the average consumer doesn't need those features, it is the whole user experience
      of the hardware and software and ease of syncing between the iPod and computer
      that really made the iPod take off.

      If this is a success then the average consumer will be more likely to surf the web
      or email on the move. At the moment that market is just limited to business users
      because it is essential. Once phones become more user friendly then more people
      will enjoy doing it and use it in their leisure time more.
      kyussmondo
  • Handset Hand Wringing

    Usage drains power. Thank heavens the iPhone has acted as a catalyst for this
    discussion, we may have never known.

    This is another hand wringing session from the Windows marketplace. The larger
    concern is being flanked by some flakey Californians. The iPhone is capable of being
    a Trojan horse for Mac platform adoption. Mac platform adoption throws 15 years of
    Windows advocacy into sharp relief. Jobs are at stake, and the slide down the slippery
    slope begins at the end of the month.
    Harry Bardal
    • Harry Bardal Beats Dead Horse Again

      Streaming video at 11...
      M.R. Kennedy
  • It -WILL BE- a success

    Be enough? <- Laughable. Before the extended batteries and front glass upgrade it was already predicted to sell a million. With all the additional press the only way it will not be a [b][i][u]phenomenal success[/b][/i[/u] is AT&T charges to much to use it.

    If you for ONE SECOND do not think PLENTY of people are willing to shell out $600 for a phone you are living in another world. I personally know (3) people buying them and another (2) that are waiting to see what connect plans/cost will be before committing. What is $600 anymore? 12 tanks of gas ;)
    DebianDog
    • If you think $600 isn't a lot of money...

      ...then I'd like to try what you're smoking.
      toadlife
      • You can't , it's to expensive .

        Perhaps the individual is RICH . Which is why the individual is stating that $600.00 is nothing .
        Intellihence
        • My thought's exactly.

          DebianDog seems to think that everyone is willing to drop 600 bucks on an iphone based on him knowing two people who say they intent on getting one.

          DebianDog need to step outside and experience the real world.

          The iphone might be a huge success in the "willing to drop 600 bucks on a smartphone" market, but that market is not very large.

          My Blackberry Pearl does everything the iphone does and cost me a "mere" $149. The iphone may capture the 4% of the market with lots of disposable cash, but the rest of the market will continue to opt for cheaper solutions like the Pearl and Windows based smartphones.

          This doesn't mean Apple can't gain market share later though. All they will need is an iphone 'nano' model that costs less.
          toadlife
          • Sorry there are LOTS of "rich" folks

            I have been in IT a long time and make "good money" just like the thousands of other people in my organization dragging around these nasty huge Blackberries. I just need a "phone" myself and have an nano iPod. Now does the ability to have music, phone, and video plus a plethora of other "cool things" that seamlessly connect to to my "overpriced" Quad Mac at home appeal to me? Sure.

            Also us 15% (upper middle class of the US) is currently 45 million. See:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demography_of_the_United_States

            We can all afford a mere $600 buck. Oh... and we smoke that $150 dollars a half ounce crunk that get you high on.. first hit! :p
            DebianDog
          • uh huh

            Didn't your mother teach you it's tacky to go around telling others how much money you make?

            Did you come from a poor family?

            You know, a significant portion of the 45 million who are "rich" would choose not to spend $600 on a phone even though they could.
            toadlife
          • Now you just sound sad

            No my mother never did... at least not when some know-it-all on the internet is telling me since -he- thinks it is "expensive" it must be. I have had a job since I was 12 and have always purchased "pretty much" what I wanted my whole life. You have no idea exactly how much money I make. I just pointed out out PLENTY of people make more than 100K a year and I am one of those people.

            No, I was brought up in the upper middle class like millions of others. Not sure what bearing does that have on the iPhone ability to sell? Nothing. I see PLENTY of kids with $300 video iPods AND a cell phone. Remember when the Razor was $300?!?! What on earth would make you think that they can't come up with $600 to have the new "coolest" thing? Heck lots of kids have $2000 rims on their cars. Get a grip! American youth does not mind going in debt.

            Well if 4% of that demographic does buy the iPhone (or about the % of folks that have Macs) that is what? 1.8 million or DOUBLE the prediction of sales. I would be shocked if they sold less than a million. It is going to be [b]the phone[/b] to have at least till X-Mas time.

            Also, like the iPod, the cost will go down as the years go by and companies come out with similar products.
            DebianDog
          • And you sound angry

            Why does someone disagreeing with you make so so angry?
            toadlife
          • That's how they got rich - LOL

            <nt>
            fr0thy2.
          • Maybe,

            but just because people have money doesn't mean they buy $600.00 phones. In a later message you seemed to argue the phone isn't expensive. That's a silly statement. Of course, it's expensive. The fact that you're talking about the top 15% of households as much as acknowledges the product is expensive.

            The price matters, because apple will not hit the sales numbers Jobs gave at current prices.

            However, if the prices drop below 300-400 things become more interesting (though this assumes nano's are priced at 199-249). If those prices drop, then so must the iPhone.

            The iPhone is an iPod with a phone, not a phone with an iPod, which means that it's price floor will always be north of the iPod prices.

            My guess is that after the initial iPhone rush, the magic price is the price of an iPod + $150 $200 to tap into the much larger market of mid to upper mid-priced phone buyers.

            You're correct that the razr sold for $300 (I believe it stated at $400-$500). But it didn't take off until it was no longer exclusive to Verizon(?) and prices dropped significantly.
            notsofast
          • Lexus - Porche - Mercedes

            A Lexus (and lots of other cars) are "expensive" too yet I see them all the time.

            i.e. Just because you think it is expensive does not make it "unaffordable" for those that chose to have it.

            Therefore if you think $600 is a lot of money then the iPhone is not for you. At least not today. At $300 they will be gobbled up.
            DebianDog
          • B-Berry = iphone?

            Seriously, your "Blackberry Pearl does everything the iphone does"? EVERYTHING? How 'bout, "everything I need it to do"?
            Larry Morgan
          • The Pearl is a looker

            The Pearl looks nice but does not compare, AT ALL, to this:
            http://www.apple.com/iphone/ads/ad3/
            DebianDog
          • You are right, no comparison

            One of them is a real, working phone, the other is an advertisement for a phone that doesn't exist yet. Considering Apple's blatant lies in the Mac vs PC ads, I don't expect the iPhone to behave anything at all like it does in the ad. Unless you believe 100% of all advertisements 100% of the time? Careful with how you answer this one. When we've pointed out Apple's blatant ad lies before, the Mac zealots excused them by saying "there is no truth in advertising anyway, you would have to be a fool to believe anyone's advertisement". Now I'm not one to call anyone a fool but if you believe the iPhone ads, the Mac zealots believe you to be a fool.
            NonZealot
          • Got to hit those projects some how...truth or stretched like the Mac Ads

            <nt>
            fr0thy2.
          • Not quite everything

            I've owned a Pearl since it came out - my wife bought one and shortly after she convinced me to get one. While the interface is certainly different from the iphone and the screen is smaller, functionally, the Pearl does almost everything the iphone does. I can check all of my email accounts, browse the web with opera mini, watch videos, and listen to mp3s. The built in music player leaves a bit to be desired but there are third party solutions that can fill the gap.

            The one thing I would really love on the pearl is a browser like the iphone verion of Safari. Browsing with Opera mini is not too bad, but that Safari demo looked really cool.

            Sure the Pearl is not quite as functional as the iphone, but the iphone costs $450 more. For some reason, I don't see the extra features of the iphone as being worth that much money to many people.
            toadlife