Why the iPhone 3GS has Bad Battery Life

After performing some detailed testing and replacing the iPhone 3GS with a new unit, it seems conclusive – Apple’s “weak” battery is sufficient for most tasks but the 3.0.1 operating system is the cause of serious battery drain. Yes, the battery size is a minute change from its predecessor, a poor choice of style over substance. But the real problem is the iPhone OS, version 3.0. I’ll elaborate as to why a day does not go by where I return home with my phone’s battery above the 40-50% mark. After testing video and audio, the times turned out to be impressive. Video can easily exceed 7-8 hours and even close in on the 10 hours promised from a new battery. On two occasions I played of 5 hours of video which left roughly 48% remaining for battery life. Audio playback and talk time also provided reasoanble results. But the problem comes from using the phone for 3G, location services and WiFi usage, the worst offenders being the first two. The use of location services, which seems to be practically required or requested by most iPhone applications I have installed (whether they should care or not), is the primary source of rapid battery drain. You should turn off location services when not in use, even if this means disappointment in not being able to use Google Lattitude as you had expected.

A significant part of the unacceptable iPhone battery drain comes from Apple’s insane notion that the iPhone is always connected wirelessly to “the cloud” and should always try to connect to retrieve new information at every opportunity. This will occur regardless of how the user utilizes the phone and Apple doesn’t seem to think those user settings are important.

Try using the mail application, for instance. I have several accounts which all are unfortunately separated into their own mailboxes (you cannot consolidate mailboxes on the built-in mail application.) Each time you merely seek to look up an email to get a name, phone number or address, the iPhone will attempt to connect to the server and retrieve new mail. If you do this multiple times daily as I do (and most people who use email hourly), your phone will drain rapidly and there is nothing you can do about it. Unfortunately Apple provides precious few email options and doesn’t include an option to stop checking each time you open a mailbox account. The solution? Get rid of all your unnecessary mailboxes, use only the most critical accounts and check them as rarely as possible.

Another problem I’ve noticed is that, even if I’m using Airplane Mode (radio off), virtually every application I fire up tells me that there is no Internet connection or that Location Services is turned off. The frequency in which this occurs is maddening. I cannot imagine that these constant messages don’t burn up more battery time as applications search for connectivity to the cloud. Since I spend a great deal of time on the subway train and out of range, I use Airplane Mode every day for at least 90-150 minutes. Wouldn’t you think that, by now, Apple would have a setting to stop these nag screens ?

Another problem is the inane restriction that Apple has in not allowing any file synchronization using the USB port other than what iTunes permits. This means that if you have documents or other files that you sync, you must maintain a WiFi connection. For example, I use Dataviz’ Documents to Go and also the QuickOffice application to synchronize my office work files. With my Palm and Blackberry, each time I had the phone in the dock, a USB synchronization allowed all my files to be synchronized. It was poetry in motion. With the iPhone, I must make sure WiFi is turned on, open up each application individually and make sure it is paired and/or connected via WiFi and manually synchronize. It’s enough to tear your hair out and drain your battery too.

While the iPhone certainly has its benefits and can be an enjoyable experience, as a practical business phone it’s a liability at present. I’m afraid that we might not see a remedy coming from Apple any time soon. Ultimately your choices are either (a) consider using your phone less intenstively, (b) buy a bulky extended battery pack, or (c) make sure you’ve got charging opportuinities at your remote locations. Other battery saving tips are available on Apple’s site, such as turning down the brightness, etc. but these are just general tips and won’t solve the ultimate issue.

Michael M. Wechsler, Esq.

Internet / Mobile entrepreneur since 1989, Intellectual Property attorney since the mid 1990s, former in-house counsel at iVillage.com, Senior Vice President of Business Strategy at Zedge, Co-Founder of the IDT Internet Mobile Group, E-Discovery expert and legal consultant with Kroll Ontrack, and owner and operator of TheLaw.com

Michael M. Wechsler, Esq. – who has written posts on The Law Professor.