'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?

'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?

Summary: Only weeks after the iPhone 4S launch, users are experiencing battery-related issues, thought to be linked to location support. Could 'Batterygate' be Apple's latest controversy?


Within a couple of weeks of last year's iPhone 4 launch, a significant number of users had noticed decreasing cell bars on their phone display if the handset was held in a particular way.

For Apple, It might be smartphone glitch déjà vu. Within a couple of weeks of the iPhone 4S launch, a large number of users have now noticed rapidly decreasing battery levels for no apparent reason.

There appears to be a running trend here.

(Modified from original -- Source: Apple)

Since the iPhone 4S was released, the Guardian questioned why the smartphone dropped 100 hours of standby time, in favour of better 3G talktime of its 2007 first-generation iPhone.

Apple remained quiet, refusing to offer an explanation as to why the iPhone 4S was 'losing' power.

The Guardian set about testing and examining the data, questioning whether it was a hardware-related 'bug' or that it could have even been the iOS 5 software itself -- with some developers saying the mobile operating system was "hefty on the battery".

Apple reportedly got in touch with a number of iPhone 4S users -- perhaps an unusual step for a company to make -- yet actions taken by the Cupertino giant which, as Steve Jobs reiterated during its 'Antennagate' press conference in July, may not surprise many of Apple's die-hard fans.

A senior Apple engineer "apologised" for the bug that he reportedly admitted to existing in the iPhone 4S, noting that they "aren't close to finding a fix".

In the space of only a few days, however, it appears a location services bug may be to blame; though, keen to stress the word "may".

The Guardian once again reported a possible issue relating to the location-based features in the smartphone, which detects a user's timezone based on physical location. The "Setting Time Zone" feature, according to CNET, searches for cell towers constantly rather than only occasionally.

Quoting Oliver Haslam on iDownload:

"It appears that iOS 5's GM release introduced a bug that causes the Setting Time Zone function to keep the location tracking circuitry running constantly, draining battery power considerably. [...] We have tested this method on four different iPhone 4s handsets, including an iPhone 4 and an iPhone 3GS. All have reported drastically improved battery life after switching 'Setting Time Zone' off."

Though the battery life 'issue' is far from the only bug in Apple's iOS 5 smartphone operating system, it does seem to be the most invasive and debilitating for users of the recently released handset.

From a pool of a few thousand to tens of millions in the space of a fortnight or two, it should come as no surprise that bugs and flaws will be discovered along the way. What appears to be a software bug will need to be fixed.

iOS "5.0.1" looms as an all but inevitable, necessary update to the recently released iOS 5 operating system. Depending on the prevalence of the issue, where data metrics collected by Apple will no doubt show -- should there be a press conference like Antennagate to address such issues, Apple may wait until other 'issues' can be rolled into the update.

Or, having said that, it may just appease the mass hysteria conjured up by journalists, bloggers and frantic customers and issue a sugar-pill-like patch, to at least calm the often overly-hyperactive media.

Historically, this should not necessarily be seen as Apple 'admitting guilt', no more so than any other company that produces software or hardware on a global level, which has to contend with a widening pool of real-life software testers.

We are all, after all, ongoing silent testers of software and devices. Apple and Microsoft, Google or any other company for that matter may "listen to its customers", but the user metrics and customer improvement metrics speak louder in mass than the voice of a few individuals as part of a focus group, for example.

Within days of Steve Jobs taking to the stage to greet press over the media-dubbed 'Antennagate', the Cupertino company released iOS 4.0.1 into the wild, to fix at least the software-side problems that encompassed the signal issue.

Mac OS X Lion is no different, with an incremental update within a few days of the revamped operating system going live. Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 are no stranger to this, nor is any other operating system for desktop or mobile alike. In fact, I cannot think of a time whereby an operating system has not had post-launch updates rolled out to users' within say, a month after it was first released.

What could, however, make a stark difference between 'Antennagate' and a potential 'Batterygate' is whether the software is at fault, or whether the hardware is the root cause.

While car manufacturers worldwide scramble to recall their flock of vehicles to repair broken steering locks or braking mechanisms, Apple's dealings with Antennagate led to 'solutions' for a fix, rather than a recall of stock itself.

It had two options: offer some form of quick-fix to enable the device to bypass the issue of the natural hand-holding position -- natural to the most of us -- or offer a refund for those still not pleased. This in effect was Apple's handling of the stock-recall, should one wish to do so. Seeing as one does not often rest one's life in the hands of a smartphone per se, unlike a car, for example, Apple saw no need to recall the handsets.

It was a wise move, and it appeased the mass hysterics of frankly, the media. As part of this collective, I accept our innate flaws of wanting to reach the headlines. As Apple is a world leading company with public stock and shares, a recall would be at least in business sense, practically suicidal.

How the company will handle the situation will be interesting, as the first 'controversy' for the company to encounter in the post-Jobs era.


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Topics: Apple, Hardware, iPhone, Mobile OS, Mobility, Operating Systems

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  • RE: 'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?

    Don't they test their products before release? For a premium costs this certainly isn't acceptable. First the iPhone 4 and now the 4S.

    Answer: Your charging it wrong!
    • RE: 'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?

      what premium cost?
      • RE: 'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?


        iPhone 4s 16gb. 650 Euro.
        Samsung Galaxy II. 470 Euro.
        HTC Titan. 450 Euro.
        Nokia Lumia 800. 420 Euro.
        etc etc etc....

        That premuim enough for you?
      • It is not premium if you compare characteristiscs and materials of these ..

        @jhughesy: ... devices. Even the pricest one among these you listed severely slower in all kinds of calculations (in certain areas, in many times), twice lower resolution, plasticky device with much less media and applications library and no AI functionality.<br><br>With so much difference there is no way to call iPhone 4S 'premium' comparing to any other phone (just a month ago, iPhone 4 <b>was</b> priced premium, since it is weaker comparing to competitive smartphones in some major areas).

        And, of course, they tested iPhones really well. This is why none of reviewers experienced problems with battery life. Time zones glitch might be way harder to track, so no wonder it takes time.
      • RE: 'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?

        @DeRSSS iPhone 4s. No AMOLED. Small 3.5" screen. No service integration just apps. Smashes when dropped. All devices have weakness in specs my friend. Don't pretend to yourself that iPhone is any better than the others and should be charged at a premium price over others.

        Tested really well? That's why they released 2 phones out of 2 with major faults?
      • RE: 'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?


        1) AMOLED is twice lower resolution technology, and the advantage of its use is only seen when you turn-off lights, what is a rare occasion.

        2) 3.5" came not out of nowhere, but from the fact that user can cover about 90% of screen with his/her thumb. Bigger screens make user use two hands, and, of course, these are bigger -- iPhone's size is already maximum what be called remotely comfortable to hold in actual phone calls use.

        3) iPhone is way more brittle-prone, this is correct. Users have higher risk to pay for glass/screen change comparing to other smartphones or have to use cases. However, glass is not scratchy comparing to plastic, and does not look and feels creaky cheap.

        4) iPhone 4S comes with services (iCloud).

        So iPhone 4S is obviously pricier to manufacture and it has functionality and characteristics that significantly better than competition. So while iPhone 4 was a premium priced product month ago, the new iPhone 4S is not.
      • 650 Euro? Really?

        @doh123 ... "iPhone 4s 16gb. 650 Euro."

        I paid the equivelant of 154 Euro for it here in the USA. Are they really 650 Euros there? Are you exaggerating?
      • RE: 'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?

        3.5" with the little iOS icons blows. I don't like it on our iPod Touch, and I definitely wouldn't like it on my smartphone. I'd rather have my HD7's screen w/o 'retina display' or AMOLED than that tiny screen.

        iCloud is turning into another mess for Apple. If you get it working, it becomes another big drain on the 4S's already poor battery life. News for ya, too ... it's not the only cloud service around, though Apple wants you to think it is.
        I like coffee.
      • RE: 'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?

        @I like coffee: iPhone 4S battery life is better than most of competitors' smartphones. Also, iCloud is way more integrated than other offerings.
      • RE: 'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?

        @jhughesy<br><br><b>iPhone 4s. No AMOLED.</b><br><br>Nope, no AMOLED - it's got a sweet retina display that looks much better than AMOLED. I own both an iPhone 4 and a Samsung Galaxy S and the iPhone's screen looks much better.<b><br><br>Small 3.5" screen. No service integration just apps. Smashes when dropped.</b><br><br>DeRSSS answered these points rather well so I see no need to repeat them.<b><br><br>All devices have weakness in specs my friend. </b><br><br>First thing you've posted that I agree with. There may be hope you you yet young padawan.<b><br><br>Don't pretend to yourself that iPhone is any better than the others and should be charged at a premium price over others. </b><br><br>What premium price would that be? Perhaps on your side of the pond Apple products fetch a premium price but here in the US the iPhones are priced competitively. As for it being "better" that is subjective... My iPhone is better at some things than my Android phone and vice versa.<b><br><br>Tested really well? That's why they released 2 phones out of 2 with major faults?</b><br><br>Something tells me that this so-called "batterygate" is just as overblown as the whole "antennagate" thing was when the iPhone 4 was released... remember the antenna issue only affected people with a certain PH level and despite the issues the iPhone 4 had a 3% return rate - presuming a 97% satisfaction rate.
    • RE: 'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?

      @jhughesy Please shut up. How many iPhones are exhibiting this problem? A few dozen? A few hundred? Those affected will get a new phone and move on, and ZDNet will be just another hysterical teenager, trying to find another way to get attention.
    • RE: 'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?

      @jhughesy Their testers apparently take prototypes with them to the bars, then proceed to drink heavily, and thus lose all concept of time passage and how much battery life should be left.
    • RE: 'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?

      No, not much testing is done anymore, other than the bare minimums. There is too much push by Sales to rush to market to beat the other guy for market share!!! The trend-setter of this method is Microsoft with all their quick Windows versions/service packs to make-work!

      USA industry is willing to take the hits on questionable products for a FAST buck while riding on their previous fame, even if the product is known to be defective. Magellan GPS did it with the Meridian/Trailblazer (I was their test eng). Once the initial sales profit is made and the bad press starts they may fix the problem with a sell-able upgrade unless it goes publicly viral impacting sales (like iPhone antenna did).

      For all you iCrap owners, you want to be the first to flaunt your new toy - well you are reaping your rewards. Many (including me) have been condemning the 'built-in' battery issue for yeas. Apple is counting on your IGNORANCE of battery life span (of about 2-3yrs) betting you will buy a new iPhone before discovering how much it will cost to replace this 1hr between charge failing battery. But iPad/Touch owners will find out soon (on an out-of-warranty) replacement cost will be AND all the data/APP loss costs. Yes, the data/APP losses when you send your iCrap device in for a battery change and the repair person kills all memory. You need to back-up all via the USB port (oops no port) or iTunes (hoping your iTune sole PC never crashes). If you are lucky the repair person will some how back-up/copy all your iCrap device data/APPs and restore (keeping a copy of all your personal info/PW/data/pics/etc). Wonder if lil brother will share your data with big brother?

      Do not weep too hard since Apple set the trend of built-in battery --- Kindle & nookColor owners are in the same boat!

      Batteries wear out - they are consumable item to all these cool tech toys.... YOU need access to easily change these consumable batteries! If you do not demanding this in future products - blame yourself!

      Sr EE Test/MFG Eng, MS-EET
      • RE: 'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?

        @Kuby It's no wonder that Magellan had issue with their products if you were their test engineer. If you do your job with a complete lack of knowledge on the topic like you did with this post you are a complete failure at your job and it's amazing that you were able to get and keep one.
    • RE: 'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?

      @jhughesy They test iPhones far better than Zack researches his hit whore articles, that's for sure. Tell me, do you go into hysterical spasms for every minor hardware/software issue, or just the one's where Apple is concerned?
    • RE: 'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?

      @jhughesy Of course they do and just like any other company some issues get through. Of course with Apple products as we are seeing once again a year later the issue is getting blown way out of proportion by bloggers trying to get clicks.
  • RE: 'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?

    I think what differentiates this from a major OS is the amount of testing required is significantly less due to the closed nature of the hardware environment. Given the number of possible Hardware configurations for something like Windows, or a lesser degree OS X, it is impossible to test all the hardware configurations much less try and test all the software.

    As a former hardware integration engineer the whole antenna gate issue was disturbing and showed a lack of overall testing discipline. Not saying the Apple is unique in this but to compare this to an OS update is, in my opinion, giving them too much of a pass.
    • RE: 'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?

      @jmhartman@... If Apple spent more of its revenue on R&D other than 2.2% , probably they could have tested all of their hardware configurations, since there are not many.
      • RE: 'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?

        @yoroto Even at only 2.2% how much more are they spending than most of their competition?
    • RE: 'Batterygate': Apple's latest iPhone controversy?

      @jmhartman@... So as a former hardware integration engineer would you have considered the possibility of a person's PH level shorting out the antennas?

      As for this battery issue - the battery STILL lasts longer than the ones in the Android devices... and if I recall correctly the specs for the iPhone 4S battery were lower.