Why Your Phone Won’t Stay Charged

My phone almost ran out of power the other day.

Angry Birds

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience – a busy day of calling and mail and suddenly you’re getting the red battery indicator, triggering a desperate search for an outlet.  Not fun at all, especially when it doesn’t feel as if you’ve been all that careless about battery use.  Oh sure, you checked Facebook a couple of times and there was the 10 minutes of Angry Birds during a coffee break.  Well, that might be all it took.

According to research conducted by the folks at Microsoft, free mobile apps which use third-party services to display ads drain a lot more battery life.  In fact, they found that up to 75% of an app’s energy use goes to power the advertisements in free, ad-supported apps.  Notice the use of the word “free.”  The paid versions of the apps – the ones without the ads – don’t have the same effect.  It’s not just apps either – some mobile web pages were evaluated along with various browsers and that made a difference as well.

This raises a few questions in my mind.  If people can pay $1 and improve battery life, they’ll probably do so.  What does that do to the installed base of ads in the mobile sphere?  The study is very detailed about where the energy leaks occur, sort of like a report from an insulation installer walking around your house before winter begins (seal this window, you need to weatherstrip the doors).  Why don’t app developers spend more time on this?  Is it because they don’t particularly care?  The researchers recommend developers ask one question – Where is the energy spent inside my app?

The point for us as consumers is that “free” isn’t always better in the grand scheme of things.  More importantly, the point for those who depend on the continued growth of the ad-supported mobile economy is to focus on keeping those phones charged.  People can’t see and click on ads if their phones are dead.  It’s not the other guy’s problem even though they share the responsibility.  Finally, the lesson for all of us in business is to keep the consumer front and center.  Creating apps, web pages, or any other product that make us money and make our customers miserable is short-sighted.

And now I’m off to uninstall a bunch of apps!

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