Fifty Shades of Drain: The Constant Charging Blues

By Shana Glenzer  |  February 19, 2015

This entry was posted in LocationKit, SR SDK, SR Thoughts, SR Tips and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

How often have you heard someone say “I don’t use [insert app] because it drains my battery”? For app developers that’s one of the most irksome comments.

Often what you believe to be draining the battery is not the actual culprit.
Fifty Shades
Over the past few months – notably with Apple’s iOS 8 update including a battery-usage monitoring tool – we’ve begun to see developers and manufacturers make a concerted effort to extend battery life. And we’re starting to understand the trade-off of some battery drain for a better user experience.

Battery drain can result from a number of reasons. Maybe not fifty as the headline naughtily teases, but groupable into three buckets:

On the device

  • Backlit display (notifications, calling, brightness setting, auto-lock).– The biggest battery drain culprit? Believe it or not, your home screen. Even with my iPhone 5 display on the lowest brightness setting, I’m seeing 17% of my battery usage coming from my home and lock screens. Kevin – a notifications junkie on an iPhone 6 – is around 15%.
  • App background processing. Some apps download data in the background while you’re not actively using the app. When you’re receiving extra value from that app, you may want to allow it to run. But some apps – Stocks, for example – may not be as valuable as the necessary battery power to run them at all times.
  • Parallax. When you slowly move your phone in your hand, you can see the 3D-like movement of the icons on your wallpaper. It takes a lot of internal hardware – and therefore battery – to power this movement.
  • Vibration. This one surprised me. While vibration is necessary to prevent disrupting meetings and other important moments, the vibration is generated by a battery-siphoning motor.

Network traffic

  • Data sending or download/streaming (iCloud backup, Airdrop, diagnostics and usage, push email updates). Sending ten of the latest pics of your nephew to twenty of your friends? (Guilty as charged.) Sharing those photos – especially when AirDrop is in “discoverable” mode – is sucking battery life. (Note: LTE & 4G drain more than 3G.)
  • Phone calls. That persistent caller can wreak havoc on your battery – even if you don’t pick up. Some have transitioned to wifi calling with the new Apple capabilities, but beware: the wifi chip requires more power than cellular chip.

Region dependent

  • Poor signal areas. When your cell is searching for a better signal, it’s using a good amount of power to do so. So when entering into that thick-walled, deep-malled movie theater, it would go easier on your battery life to switch to airplane mode.
  • Wifi and Bluetooth search. When you’re not at home or work (or at the rare sporting event with killer wifi), you may want to switch wifi off. Just trying to find a wifi connection can strain your device’s battery. Same goes for Bluetooth, though it is becoming more and more useful for location interactions, so you’ll need to evaluate battery vs. benefit.
  • GPS: location mode. When we accept “access my location,” we’re agreeing to anywhere from 1% to upwards of 30% per hour of battery drain. Navigation, in particular, is a notorious energy hog. (Love my Waze but not without a charger handy.) The drain discrepancy is, put simply, based on how frequently the GPS is pinged, how frequently the location manager supplements the GPS with other signals (most notably wifi), and how the developer processes this data to produce some type of meaningful information for the user.

Bonus drain tip: Your battery will drain faster when the phone is hotter so on a high-temp day, consider storage alternatives to your pocket. Also, certain phone cases can cause your phone to heat up more quickly.

ICYMI: The LocationKit SDK helps app developers access advance location with minimal battery drain. Sign up for access now.

Follow Shana Glenzer on Twitter.


 |  April 21, 2015 12:00 am


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