Smartphone energy management – when will there be an app for that?

Mobile energy saving app?

I wrote a post last week about mobile endpoint management applications and their potential to extend smartphone battery life. It seems it was a prescient piece given the emergence this week of a study from Purdue University and Microsoft Research showing how energy is used by some smartphone applications [PDF].

The study indicates that many free, ad-supported applications expend most of their energy on serving the ads, as opposed to on the application itself. As an example, the core part of the free version of Angry Birds on Android uses only 18% of the total app energy. Most of the rest of the energy is used in gathering location, and handset details for upload to the ad server, downloading the ad, and the 3G tail.

This behaviour was similar in other free apps, such as Free Chess, NYTimes which were tested on Android and an energy bug found in Facebook causing the app to drain power even after termination, was confirmed fixed in the next version released (v1.3.1).

The researchers also performed this testing on Windows Mobile 6.5 but in the published paper, only the Android results are discussed.

Inmobi’s Terence Egan pushed back against some of the findings noting that

In one case, the researchers only looked at the first 33 seconds of usage when playing a chess game.

Naturally, at start up, an app will open communications to download an ad. Once the ad has been received, the app shouldn?t poll for another ad for some time.

Hver the time it take to play a game of chess (the computer usually beats me in 10 minutes) a few ad calls are dwarfed by the energy consumption of the screen, the speakers, and the haptic feedback.

Although, in a tacit admission that this is a potential issue further down in his post he lists handy best practices for developers to make “ad calls as battery friendly as possible”

The iPhone iOS operating system wasn’t looked at in this study at all but it is not immune from these issues either. And, in fact, reports are emerging now that the new iPad is unable to charge when certain energy intensive apps are running.

While it is important to remind developers of the need for green coding, not all coders will heed the advice and there will always be rogue apps out there draining your smartphone’s battery.

And this is not just a consumer issue – for enterprises it is important to keep the organisation’s smartphone owners happy, connected, and above all, productive. A drained battery is ultimately a disconnected, unproductive and frustrated employee. Reducing a phone’s energy use is, obviously a sustainability win too.

Mobile endpoint management applications could use technology similar to the eprof software used in the study, to identify bugs or rogue applications on phones. This could be reported back to a central database to alert users (and app developers) of issues found.

With more and more apps coming on the market, this is an issue which is only going to become more pronounced. Someone is going to come out with a decent mobile energy management app sooner, rather than later. It will be interesting to see where it comes from.

Photo Credit Tom Raftery