The World Bank issued a report yesterday showing that the number of mobile phone subscriptions in use worldwide, both pre-paid and post-paid, has now reached over 6 billion.
The report went on to reveal that more than 30 billion mobile applications, or “apps,” were downloaded in 2011 alone – these apps extend the capabilities of phones, for instance to become mobile wallets, navigational aids or price comparison tools. However the apps also have a cost associated with their use – they drain the phone’s battery.
Some of these apps are energy hogs – they require a lot of energy to run, and so they drain the phone’s battery quickly (maybe they are legitimately using the camera, the GPS radio, and the 3G network simultaneously). Other apps have bugs in them whereby they may not properly close out battery use after a particular function and they continue to drain the battery. Until now, there has been no way to identify which apps were the ones draining your battery’s charge.
I have written a couple of times here before wondering why there was no energy management app for smart phones. Now there is – Carat.
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…
Like Symantec, Apple too have a significant Green story that they are not telling – and it just got a lot Greener!
Why do I say they have a Green story in the first place? Aren’t they just constantly exhorting us to buy their products? How is that sustainable?
Well, let me start by making a confession – I am an Apple fanboy. I love their kit. I bought my first computer (a used Apple Mac SE FDHD) back in 1989 and ever since then, even when I worked as a Windows Sysadmin, my own personal machine has always been a Mac.
When Apple brought out their 3G iPhone, I bought one of those too. And I loved it. The device was, without doubt, a defining moment in the history of mobile phones. And this is where Apple’s Green story started to become more obvious to me. My previous phones had, for almost all the previous 12 years, been Nokia’s. The average lifetime of my Nokia handsets was typically less than a year (usually 6-9 months). A new mobile would come out with the next killer feature, and I’d shell out.
iPhone App Store
However, with the iPhone 3G, Apple kept upgrading the operating system, adding more and more functionality, and making it freely available for download directly onto the phone. This meant I was able to get all the new functionality, without having to buy any new hardware. This is a definite dematerialisation win – it takes a lot less carbon to download a new operating system, than to buy a new phone.
At the same time, Apple launched the App store for the iPhone. This meant you could go to a library of programs written specifically for the iPhone and download one directly for your mobile if it had functionality (or a game!) you wanted. This ability to easily extend the functionality of the devices at will, also meant they tended to have a longer working life.
When I did finally upgrade from the iPhone 3G, to the iPhone 4 (2 years later), I had a buyer already lined up for the iPhone 3G, so it lives on (and is still much loved by its new owner!).
Similarly, Apple’s Mac hardware is hugely desirable. Every one of my Mac desktops and laptops has been passed on after I have finished with them. Macs are always in demand, even second hand. I never have a problem finding someone to take a used Mac off my hands. On the other hand, I have a Sony Viao laptop from 2007 that I couldn’t give away!