Smartphone Battery Life Is Getting Shorter, And We Might Be To Blame

A low battery indicator displayed on an iPhone screen.
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Apple just released the iPhone XR. Among its more interesting features is one that cannot be easily demonstrated. But according to Apple, and all testers and reviewers since release, it has the longest battery life of any iPhone Apple has ever produced. That includes the more expensive iPhone XS and the much larger iPhone XS Max.

Is this some dark magic? Probably not. But it is rather unusual all the same. In fact, it runs counter to the trend. MacRumors has more to say on the matter in the piece, “Smartphone Battery Life May Be on the Decline Because Lithium Ion Batteries Can’t Keep Up With New Technology.”

“Overall smartphone battery life may be declining due to the increasing demands new technologies place on lithium ion batteries, according to smartphone testing done by The Washington Post.”

“In a series of battery life tests where multiple smartphone models from the past few years were set at the same brightness and forced to reload the same sites, newer smartphones were not able to last as long as older devices. “

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MacRumors lays the blame at the feet of “increasing demands of new technologies.” But in point of fact, we are the increasing demands of new technologies. We are the ones demanding that smartphone screens pack a greater resolution and more dense PPI than the human eye can see. We are demanding screen brightness at levels that are uncomfortable to use.

We allow marketing to determine what we buy as opposed to how well a smartphone works for us. The iPhone XR was initially lambasted because it did not have a 1080p display. However, we have learned that in blind tests, people prefer the screen on the XR. And we praise the XR for its heroic battery life.

Beyond the display, our phones are always listening for keywords, detecting the slightest movement in preparation for scanning our fingers and faces. That all takes battery. There are also the apps we use that behave badly and use our smartphone resources poorly. Just take a look at how much battery any of Facebook’s apps use, then Google, then Uber. We do not demand better from these companies. So they continue to deplete the overall life of our smartphone batteries.

There is only so much energy efficiency one can get from shrinking the CPU process. When we get more efficient CPUs we tend to throw more cores into the device eliminating any battery gain. We want large screen phones, but not phones that are thicker or heavier.

Our smartphone demands are what is driving the industry. Because we do not prioritize battery life in our purchases and app usage, there is little reason to believe the battery life situation will get better anytime soon.