iPhone users harangue Apple over battery life

Dubbed 'iDrain,' problem likely a software glitch, says expert

Reports that Apple's iPhones are draining their batteries so fast that some users can't make it through a workday without recharging likely point to a problem in the new iPhone OS 3.0 software, an Apple hardware repair expert said Sunday.

"Users are reporting battery issues that it runs out very quickly," said Aaron Vronko, the CEO of Michigan-based Rapid Repair, a firm that fixes iPods and iPhones and sells parts for do-it-yourselfers. "It sounds like a problem with iPhone 3.0 [and having] some of its features turned on."

Vronko, who posted one of the first teardowns of the new iPhone 3GS on launch day, June 19, suspects that it's not the battery itself, which is nearly identical to the one found in the older iPhone 3G.

"I don't think it's a hardware issue," he said, "but some interaction within the software that's not quite working as intended. Something is really draining the battery." Another teardown, done by iFixit, noted that the iPhone 3GS's battery is just 6 per cent more powerful than the battery in its predecessor.

Users started complaining about poor battery performance almost as soon as Apple offered iPhone 3.0, the software available for download June 17 for first-generation iPhones and second-generation iPhone 3Gs. The new iPhone 3GS relies on the same software.

"After updating to [iPhone] 3.0 the battery life is very short. It consumes five per cent to 10 per cent an hour," claimed an original iPhone user identified as "ukfasthands" in a message posted on Apple's support forum June 17.

"I too have experienced severe battery depletion issues since updating to 3.0," echoed Donald Cowan in another message posted on Apple's support forum. "Normally get 5 days or so with my 1st Gen iPhone in standby, but now lucky to get through the day. From a communication point of view my iPhone is now a liability."

iPhone 3G owners who had updated to iPhone 3.0 also said their phones were draining extraordinarily fast. "There's a drastic reduction in battery power to my iPhone 3G since I installed the 3.0 software," said Paul Irvine on the same support thread as Cowan. "Within 2 hours, power drains from a full charge to the alert for 20% power remaining, then the 10% alert followed by it going dead."

Although suggestions by others to delete e-mail accounts, especially Microsoft Exchange accounts, then restore those accounts, fixed the problem for some -- leading users to speculate that the vaunted "push notification" that debuted in iPhone 3.0 was the culprit -- the solution didn't help everyone.

iPhone 3GS users also waded into the battery waters. Several threads on the 3GS support forums boast as many as 100 messages and have been viewed tens of thousands of times.

"I've had each generation of iPhone since they were launched in 2007, and upgraded from my 3G to the new 3GS a week ago on the day of its release," said "ahawkinson" on June 27. "My experience with the battery life has been really, really poor."

As is usually the case, others stepped in with advice or theories. One of the latter blamed corrupt backups from earlier models, while the former centered on doing a factory reset of settings, then downloading and reinstalling iPhone 3.0.

But that recommendation only raised hackles. "All this rubbish about make sure this is turned off, do resets, clear this that and the other, just so you can preserve battery life is a load of rubbish!" exclaimed a user labeled "::..S a m..::" in a 3GS support forum. "What's the point of having all these features if you don't have the power to run them?"

Apple's own advice about extending battery life made Sam's point, as it suggests that users turn off a myriad of features, including some it touted when it rolled out iPhone 3.0 in March and the iPhone 3GS in early June.

To add to the problem, the iPhone doesn't let users swap out a fresh battery for one that's died, something other cell- and smartphones allow. The omission of a user-replaceable battery was a point of contention in 2007, when the iPhone debuted, with at least one consumer group questioning the practice. For the most part, discussion of the merits of a sealed battery haven't plagued Apple since then.

iPhone battery consumption has even made the national mainstream press. Late last week, after one Los Angeles Times reporter filed a story about the problem, another chimed in with some personal observations after seeing fast draining on her own iPhone 3GS. "The 'S' in 3GS may stand for many things on this device -- 'sexy,' 'speed,' 'sweet' -- but it certainly doesn't stand for 'stamina,'" said Michelle Maltais. She later dubbed the issue "iDrain."

Help, however, may be on the way, said Rapid Repair's Vronko. "Apple has already delivered the iPhone 3.1 SDK to developers," Vronko said. "I wouldn't be surprised if that didn't fix some of the problems."

Apple was not available on Sunday for comment on the "iDrain" reports from users.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
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