Sponsored By

Apple iPhone 4S BatteryGate: Gripes Continue

I'm trying everything from tweaks to battery packs to give my iPhone 4S more juice. Let's hope Apple doesn't tell me I'm holding it wrong.

Fritz Nelson

November 1, 2011

7 Min Read

InformationWeek Now--What's Hot Right Now

InformationWeek Now--What's Hot Right Now

This morning I awoke to a fully-charged iPhone 4S. When I unplugged the phone, it suddenly showed a charge of 98%. Less than two hours, 75 e-mails, a five minute phone call, and a couple of notifications later, and I'm down to 86%. If today is like any other day with the iPhone 4S, I'll be recharging some time around 3 p.m. Here's the kicker: In my earlier days with the phone, its battery life was much worse; after following a few tips, I bought back two or three hours of battery life.

Here's what I use: Location services on several applications, like iMapMyRide, Maps, BayTripper, Facebook, iHeartRadio, Siri, Trapster and Weather. I use three e-mail accounts, with Push e-mail fully enabled--this includes a corporate account using ActiveSync, tapping into several hundred e-mails per day. Add in Bluetooth occasionally, although I normally turn it off when I'm not using it. I've turned off time zone detection and even dimmed the display. I also use iCloud; WiFi; notifications from a variety of applications, like SportsCenter (although mostly on weekends), The New York Times, Facebook, Trapster, APPY Geek, my Calendar, the phone, and Messages. I've turned off notifications in the Stock Widget, SkyGrid and Mail. Surely, there's more I could do.

I've read the Apple iPhone 4s Battery Life Support Community discussion (as much as I could make it through; there are now more than 2500 replies in the discussion), a very early conversation on an internal BYTE Google Group message thread starting the day after the 4S came out, and several articles detailing fixes, including these tips from Gizmodo. Many of the suggestions have actually worked. But some of them are untenable, like turning off Push e-mail services. After all, the iPhone 4s replaced my BlackBerry, a product I've been using for several years, and I'm pretty unwilling to go backward.

On the Apple forum, under a highlighted post called "iPhone 4S Battery life best practice," one of the suggestions is to turn BlueTooth off, which begs an important question of Apple--why include it at all! Nothing like having to cripple key phone functions. Or, as one post on the forum put it: "Essentially just turn every feature off to make it a flip phone."

Apple engineers are talking to customers, but haven’t identified the power hog in public. As InformationWeek's Tom Claburn noted: "Speculation about the source of the power drain has suggested a number of possible culprits related to iPhone 4S features: iCloud, Siri, Location Services, Bluetooth, Calendar/Reminder Sync, and automated diagnostic transmissions to Apple, among others."

What's confounding is that the suggestions are all over the map (which, by the way, would also be best left unused): no GPS apps, no spotlight search (I'm still not even sure what that means), have WiFi stop asking to join networks (actually this is a good suggestion; it's just annoying that it does this constantly).

InformationWeek readers have their own theories about the battery woes, as evidenced by a growing discussion on Claburn's story. One InformationWeek reader, RLAST000, comments: "[The] problem is not the phone but [the] latest FourSquare update. It runs it's [sic] 'Radar' function continuously regardless if app is open. Disable it in the Location settings area and the battery problem goes away." That might be "a problem" but it isn't "the problem." I'm not using FourSquare, for instance.

Reader Dandycon suggests the following culprit: "Apple overclocked the A5 processor to compete with Samsung S2. Once Apple sell enough of 4S, they will release the correcting software to reset the overclock processor. Which will correct the battery problems." Another reader, cthacker94101, suggests: "Disable Date/Time auto time zone support." I've seen this suggested in a variety of other places on the web.

Finally, many people have suggested purchasing battery packs for the iPhone 4S. The Mophie Juice Pack seems to get the most attention, but other options abound. Shelly Palmer, of MediaBizBloggers.com suggested the uNu Power DX-1700B, which is much cheaper; BYTE's Larry Seltzer is trying this out, while I've been using the Mophie.

So far, the Mophie has lived up to its promise, providing double the battery life of the iPhone 4S, and a significant measure of relief. It's also an attractive case. But the idea of adding weight and bulk (it adds at least a quarter inch of thickness, if not more, to the iPhone) is, yet again, us making concessions because the iPhone 4S and its operating system seem incapable of keeping up with the basic features that come with the phone.

Worse, as CNET's Josh Lowensohn points out, Apple has yet to say anything, although this is Apple's habit: do some research, determine the real problem, and engineer a solution. It sounds like that's happening now. Let's just hope we're not told to simply hold the phone differently.

The bigger challenge for Apple: There are plenty of other phone options. In the past several weeks, I've been using Samsung's Galaxy SII running Android. It is a spectacular phone: It's light as a feather, the display is gigantic and brilliant, the performance is stunning, and the array of Android apps, while not as voluminous as that of the iPhone, is quite enough for my taste. In fact, most applications that I use on the iPhone are available on Android. Meanwhile, I've also been testing HTC's Radar 4G running on T-Mobile's network, and running Windows Phone 7 Mango (v 7.5). The experience has also been eye-opening.

While I am trying to create an environment on each of these phones that is consistent enough to get a real sense of battery life, it's been difficult. Each acts a bit differently, especially regarding things like Location services. Once I have corporate e-mail running on all three, I'll be able to come fairly close, but it won't be an (pardon the expression) Apples-to-Apples comparison.

But I did try a simple experiment over the weekend, on a Sunday morning when e-mail traffic is almost non-existent for me: I charged up all three phones, started iHeartRadio on all three and ran them each into the ground. Almost no other services were running, although it is difficult to ascertain what the iPhone was doing behind the scenes, and I received only one interrupting phone call that lasted for two minutes on the iPhone.

The result: The Samsung Galaxy SII ran out of juice long before the HTC Radar 4G and iPhone. Each ran for approximately three hours non-stop before the Samsung started going into red alert at 10% battery life, at which point the HTC was still at 25% charge and the iPhone 4S at 30%.

I'll write more about these three platforms in the coming days. Meanwhile, please share your own battery experiences, and your thoughts and experiences using these three platforms--and oh, what the hell, BlackBerry too.

Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

Follow Fritz Nelson and InformationWeek on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Google+:

About the Author(s)

Fritz Nelson

Vice President, Editorial Director InformationWeek Business Technology Network

Fritz Nelson is a former senior VP and editorial director of the InformationWeek Business Technology Network.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights