iPhone

Battery life: The next iPhone's top priority

Sure, the next iPhone is expected to have a new form factor, dual cameras, and multi-tasking, but the biggest issue at stake is improving battery life.

Forget about dual cameras, mobile video conferencing, or multi-tasking. Those are all innovations that Steve Jobs is expected to talk about on Monday at Apple's WWDC 2010 conference when he unveils the fourth generation iPhone.

UPDATE: See my article iPhone 4 battery life: How much is Apple promising? to learn what Apple .

However, the most important thing Apple needs to improve in its next smartphone is not nearly as flashy or attention-grabbing, but is the one feature that's holding back the device the most: Battery life. And, there's reason to believe Apple is ready to take a big step forward in that department.

The battery problem

The iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS have some of the worst battery performance of any smartphone in the industry. Devices from Nokia and RIM (BlackBerry) run circles around the iPhone on battery life. While it's true that 3G and Wi-Fi radios are the biggest drain on smartphone batteries and they limit the battery performance of all 3G devices, the iPhone is particularly inefficient.

The iPhone is so bad that it has difficulty holding a charge for an entire business day under even moderate use, and that makes it an impractical device for many executives, salespeople, and other highly-mobile professionals.

There are times when heavy iPhone use can drain the battery ridiculously fast. For an example, an hour of continuous use for Web browsing over 3G can easily drain up to a third of the iPhone's battery life. As a result, many iPhone users have to get products like the Griffin PowerBlock Reserve to help make it through an entire day of heavy use without a charge.

Meanwhile, Android devices--the iPhone's biggest competition right now--have by-passed the iPhone in battery life in many cases. For example, the Motorola Droid can easily make it though a business day without a charge. Although Android devices tend not to be as efficient as Nokia or BlackBerry smartphones (and some Android phones such as the HTC EVO are as bad as the iPhone), the battery life issue could become another reason for consumers and business professionals to choose Android over iPhone.

Expected improvements

There's optimism that the 4th-gen iPhone will deliver significant battery life improvements. Most of that hope is pinned to the fact that Apple's iPad--just released in April--has terrific battery performance. The iPad gets over 10 hours of battery life in the real world, so it looks like Apple has learned a few things about engineering better power savings in mobile devices.

Of course, the iPad also has two huge batteries as you can see in the photo below (from TechRepublic's Cracking Open the Apple iPad gallery).

The iPhone won't have the luxury of even one battery that large, although Gizmodo's dissection of the stolen iPhone4 reported that the next iPhone has a 16% larger battery than the iPhone 3GS. Still, that alone won't be enough to deliver battery life to compete with Android devices, let alone BlackBerry or Nokia.

The biggest factor that led to the excellent battery life in the iPad was that Apple designed its own system-on-a-chip (SoC) to run it. Being able to optimize this ARM-based Apple A4 chip with the iPhone OS software that powers the iPad obviously produced an extremely power-efficient product.

Now that Apple is in the chip design business, the expectation is that the fourth generation iPhone will also be built on Apple's custom silicon and that the company will be able to take advantage of the efficiencies it has learned in optimizing the A4 with the iPhone OS for the iPad.

The new iPhone may or may not be powered by the same exact A4 processor that drives the iPad, but I'd be shocked if the fourth generation iPhone isn't built on Apple's custom silicon. And, that is the iPhone's best hope for a major boost in battery life.

For instant analysis of tech news, follow my Twitter feed: @jasonhiner

Sanity check

Make no mistake, battery life is a top priority for business professionals who use smartphones, and since 40% of iPhone sales are made to enterprise users, this is something Apple needs to improve significantly. The iPhone can't just rely on better usability and more applications. Android is quickly catching up on both of those fronts. The iPhone already has the yoke of AT&T's network around its neck and the perception of a closed ecosystem working against it. If Apple doesn't fix battery life this time around, it will become a major competitive disadvantage.

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

21 comments
becham
becham

Apple Iphone has created a revolution as it enters in to the market and every Cell manufacturing company has to switch on this technology as its one the latest.But nothing is 100%.the Battery problem of Iphone has faced by approx by every user,but i think that apple will overcome this issue soon.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

300 hours standby, 7 hours talk time, 10 or more hours with full video.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

Apple does not want to change their batteries. They are designed to give about 2 years of usage - so after 2 years, you are forced to by the latest and greatest iPhone. Why do you think the typical consumer can't change the battery? Apple wants you to buy a new iPhone - not keep the current one around for 10 years [And I'm sure if they were lasting 10 years, they'd find a way to get AT&T and others to drop supporting them].

nwallette
nwallette

The battery in my first-gen iPod Video still works fine. I doubt it'll play 24 hours of audio anymore without a charge, but it's still good enough. The Toshiba hard drive is about to give up the ghost though.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

... with all their latest devices, including their laptop computers. I'm still doing fine with my iPhone 3G compared to my previous replaceable battery models. I was lucky to get even one year with those things.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'm not considering such a device but if I was, it would be one that wasn't tied to AT&T. Their signal doesn't isn't accessible in my workplace.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

But then, depending on where you are, is any signal available? Too much metal around you will kill any cellular signal.

JH_Chicago_Suburbs
JH_Chicago_Suburbs

Now that ATT has changed its data plans, the next priority should be efficiency of communications.

jameskchau
jameskchau

Battery life is a key attribute, not property as a crucial enterprise mobile device. The key poperty of a crucial enterprise remains the ability to perform enterprise business functions with a high level of integration with the enterprise landscape providing desired values to the stakeholders. Example of this property is the SalesForce software package for iPhone. Another example is the GenTax state departmental tax integrated software package. You have to remember that enterprises need apps, nothing else matter.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

If a user can not use their apps because their phone is dead then it is of no use to them. Bill

Narg
Narg

I use my iPhone for a full day, sometimes 2 days. I do grab e-mail via push, and use the phone often. This is not any worse than any other smartphone I've used the past. Just like those past smartphones, I plug my phone in nightly, so I always havea full charge at the begining of each day. On the nights I forget, I've yet to suffer a dead battery the next day.

nwallette
nwallette

I use it quite a bit for games, browsing, push email, etc.. But I do take some steps to conserve. For instance, I turned off BlueTooth since I lost my BT earpiece - I use the wired ones when I really need to be hands-free, which isn't often enough for it to be a big compromise. I try to remember to turn off WiFi when I'm not planning on transferring much data. Location services are off on all apps that don't strictly require it. I don't care about geo-tagging and don't need the GPS radio chattering every time I take a picture. All of this saves a little power -- not a ton, because it's already pretty efficient at turning services on and off when needed, but there are some things that can't be helped (like BT and WiFi probes) so I disable them when I don't need them. It doesn't affect my daily usage pattern, and I usually end the day at about 50-75% charge, depending on how much I played Harbor Master. ;-)

jus10mar10
jus10mar10

I consider myself a heavy iPhone user, but rarely have I not been able to make it through the day.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

with the 'other devices' when the battery runs out you just pop in the spare. Genius.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

...especially with the claimed 300 hour standby time and over 7 hours of Talk time with the new model.

travis.duffy
travis.duffy

is downright asinine. Every other phone manufacturer on the planet has always had a removable battery. The fact that apple doesn't is just one more way they screw their customers. Why should I have to send my device in and PAY to have something replaced that I can do myself??? That's regardless of the fact that as a user who cannot function without my smart phone(Blackberry) what am I supposed to do during the time that the phone is shipped in for repair?? Sorry but my business does not start and stop at the mercy of Apple and their non-replaceable junk! This is not a serious smart phone. It is a TOY!

vballas
vballas

Lots of power is lost just switching the damn thing on every minute to check if something has arrived. A led indicator would certainly help and the design could be intuitive, i.e. A led ring around the front facing camera or main button

andy.james
andy.james

I'd posted this previously and it looks like Apple were listening! To be really useful for business the battery life needs to be drastically improved along with far better reception. A device that lasts less than a business day without charging is not really viable nor is one that does not get a signal when other phones in the location do.

ChrisEvans
ChrisEvans

I upgraded from 3G to 3GS purely based on the promise of a better battery life and it is MUCH worse .. damn them! I am now tied into another contract so hopefully I will be free when the 5G iphone comes out!

NexS
NexS

Or not. Perhaps, with all the speculation as to why and why not these devices should be used in the enterprise. One major player is security. Perhaps they could make it more "Windows-able" with the security features. It would make alot of people very, very happy.

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