iPhone 4S: Notifications, Location Services, the bane of good battery life

New iPhone 4S owners are complaining about battery life on the new phone. The new notification system can cause the phone to constantly poll the network, if left to its default configuration.

The new notification system in iOS 5 is a welcome upgrade to the old-school method used by earlier versions. The system is so slick it entices new iPhone 4S owners to let every app on the phone send notifications for virtually every event the app tracks. Unfortunately, as Android phone owners can attest enabling notifications can be the quickest path to the shortest battery life on a new phone.

User forums are already rife with iPhone 4S owners complaining of poor battery life that is shorter than that of earlier iPhones. New owners are already discovering that apps that poll the web frequently for updates of one type or another can quickly drain the phone's battery when outside the comfort of a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Those who have owned smartphones for a while know all too well that battery technology is not as good as it needs to be. Many a user has put a phone into standby mode at night, only to discover the phone battery was almost dead in the morning with no activity.

The problem lies in the fact that for today's smartphone there is no such thing as no activity. Apps are designed to keep in touch with the web, often in the background, to keep the phone user informed of things even when not using the app. Social network apps, Twitter, Facebook, etc., are notorious for constantly polling the web to see if new updates from friends have been submitted. The result is the phone is always checking for them, and that means a hit on the battery.

So what can you do to make your battery last longer? Turn off location-based services, as those are used by many apps to check the network to see where the phone is all the time. Only turn on notifications for apps that are important to you, as that will limit the background polling going on all the time.

The notifications in iOS 5 are easy to access in settings, and the user can turn them off for each app as desired. Some apps place this setting in the app itself, so if an app is sending unneeded notifications check around to find the setting to disable them.

As the settings in iOS 5 makes clear: "Location Services uses GPS along with crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower locations to determine your approximate location." That's a lot of radio activity, and that eats a battery faster than anything. You can turn locations services off on an app-by-app basis in the iPhone settings to make sure critical apps can use them but nothing else.

The iPhone 4S battery life is pretty good in my experience, but I did turn off notifications I don't need. I also disabled location services for apps that don't need to know exactly where I am, like Twitter. There are other things you can do to spare your battery even further, but these two areas do it for me.