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Battery Life: Smartphones Go Back to the Future

Marissa Delisle
Marketing Specialist at Digital Turbine
Apr 24, 2018

Cast your mind back to the turn of the Millennium and the feature phones that dominated the market at the time. If you are old enough to remember so far back, I’m sure you have fond memories of your old Nokia 5110 or 5190 devices.

But it’s probably not the sleek design (in snazzy colors like gecko green and Bermuda blue) or the addictive games (who remembers Snake?) hardwired into the device that you remember so fondly. It’s the battery life.

Boy did those things have longevity. A single charge could see you through an entire vacation if you didn’t phone home too often (your poor mother!).

It’s all too easy to laugh at the old “Nokia brick” type phones. Let’s face it, with limited applications other than calls and text (SMS) – we’d have to wait a couple of years before WAP gave us a rather limited version of the Internet – they just weren’t that useful beyond the obvious phone-based tasks. However, at the time (after decades of being tied to a wall socket) they were revolutionary and in some ways were even better than the devices we “pocket” these days.

A Step Backwards

For all the advances in smartphone technology in recent years, we’ve taken numerous steps backwards in terms of battery life.

While the latest devices push the boundaries of connectivity, productivity, entertainment and have completely changed our perception of what a “phone” or even a “computer” is, they are as good as useless if you cannot access a charging point at some point during the day.

You might pay upwards of $1,000 for your high-end Apple X or Galaxy Note 8 device, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to last beyond 12 hours.

For the run-of-the-mill (not premium) smartphone user, it actually gets worse. The average smartphone has a battery life of just 9 hours 40 minutes – barely enough to get you through the working day with a commute at either end.

While “everyday” modern life means that a charging point is rarely very far away (although you might have to fight your way to the front of the queue at a busy airport or café), it’s those other times (when a fully charged smartphone stuffed full of apps can really come into its own) that poor battery life lets us down.

When taking that hike in the hills, the extended bike ride, a day’s fishing on the lake or a day exploring an unfamiliar city; it’s not until you need to check Google Maps, look for a restaurant recommendation or figure out how the local public transport system works, that you realize how important good battery life is.

Note:  Even in the most advanced economies, finding a charging point isn’t a given. For example, the rail system in the UK can be completely hit or miss with some train carriages providing every seat with a USB charging point, while others lack even a single, accessible electricity socket. Similarly, a number of pubs and restaurants in the UK have banned staff from charging customers’ devices, fearing legal action for lost or damaged phones and to lighten the load of bar staff.

The Weakest Link

As app developers we should consider poor battery life as the weakest link between our technology and our users. It doesn’t matter how good or useful an app is if users are afraid to use it because it drains their device’s power.

Of course, some apps are more power hungry than others and therefore app developers should always be mindful of demands on power when building new applications.

Further Reading: Great Apps Come in Small Packages

Nokia to the Rescue

While most smartphone manufacturers continue to push the boundaries of power-zapping technologies (big bright screens, superfast chips, etc.) one company is focusing on the one thing that keeps our devices running – longer battery life.

Nokia’s budget Nokia 2 smartphone (retailing at around $100) might be a little (lot) slower and feel somewhat less luxurious than its premium competition – but thanks to its powerful 4100mAh battery – it can last up to two days between charges.

Reviews of the Nokia 2 have been kind, highlighting the fact that there is a significant audience for a well-built, functional device, that simply requires it to work when needed. And let’s face facts, speed and looks only get you so far when your device has been completely drained of power.

While the Nokia 2 with its limited memory (only 8GB) and low-power CPU (Snappdragon 212) won’t appeal to “heavy” users (for gamers, the device will be next to useless) the appeal to a certain demographic (older users perhaps) who may primarily use their smartphone for “piece of mind” and may only ever use one or two apps is clear.

Further Reading: App Usage through the Ages – Targeting Older, More Lucrative Users

The Next Killer App

The question is: Is battery life the next “killer app” on our smartphones? Would you be willing to sacrifice functionality for extra hours between charges?

One thing is for sure, as mobile devices become more ingrained into our everyday lives, we (and our devices) are going to demand more from their batteries.

Further Reading: Forget Smartphones, the Future Belongs to Intelligent Devices

Is battery life a major consideration when choosing your next smartphone? As an app developer, how much consideration do you give to battery life? Share your comments below: