Is your iPhone battery draining too fast?

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I remember reading about the CEO of Blackberry (clinging to relevance by) calling iPhone users “wall-huggers”. He said this because the iPhone can be notorious for being unable to go a full day without needing a recharge, so users are always “hugging the wall” for a place to plug the phone in to recharge.

He’s not wholly off-base in his comments.

But it’s also not such a simple task to overcome. Still, that’s a much bigger topic for another time. Because meantime, we’re still hugging the wall.

There are always a host of articles that come out about ways to improve iPhone battery life, and they are usually useful. But I found this article: “The Ultimate Guide to Solving iOS Battery Drain“, particularly useful and meaningful, beyond most of the click-bait articles on the topic.

The best part of the article? Providing you with a simple and real test if you actually have a battery drain problem (or just a perceived one):

There is a quick and easy battery life test built into your device, if you do a little bit of math — the Usage and Standby times. Head on over to Settings > General > Usage and check out your times.

Your Usage time is how long you have actually used your device, and the Standby time is how long your device has been dormant in-between the times you’ve used it. The key to look for is that your Usage time should be significantly lower than your Standby time, unless you have been using your device every single second you’ve had it unplugged. If this is not the case and your Usage time is exactly equal to your Standby time, you have a severe problem. The bottom line is that your Usage time should be accurate to how much you’ve used it since you took it off the charger.

So here’s the test: write down your usage and standby time, press the sleep/wake button (or lock button, as some call it) to put the device to sleep, and set the device down for five minutes. When you come back, take note of the change in time. If your device is sleeping properly, then the Standby time should have increased by five minutes and your Usage time by <1 minute . If your Usage time rises by more than one minute, you have a drain problem. Something is keeping your device from sleeping properly, significantly shortening the time it will last.

Even tho I’m an iPhone developer, it never occurred to me to try this. I think I know what my bias is: my phone is always plugged in. Because I am a developer, my phone is almost always plugged into my MacBook Pro so I can develop and test. Thus, it’s always charging and I really don’t worry much about battery drain because it never has a chance to be drained! There is one exception to this, which I’ll touch on below.

When I tried the above test, I wound up with a Standby of 5 minutes and a Usage of 3 minutes. Whoa! Now I had already done many of the battery-saving tips (it’s a habit to check all settings when I apply an OS update). But I didn’t realize I still had a big battery drain. Turns out it was from either Apple Maps, Google Maps, or Waze. I can’t tell which because those where the only 3 that had “Background App Refresh” turned on, and I turned them all off at the same time. Sorry, didn’t have the time to try them one by one to really see who the culprit was. But they all had this on in order to do things like turn-by-turn directions. Understandable, but not something I need 99% of the time. So, I’m happy to keep them off, turn them on when needed, then turn it back off when done. After I did that and ran the test again, my Usage went to 0 minutes. Huzzah!

Background App Refresh is a really cool thing, but developers do need to work judiciously to balance the needs of the app vs. the needs of the user… and battery life is a big user need.

Step 8 – Enable Airplane Mode in Areas of Poor Cellular Service, that’s another big one for me.

One time I don’t have my phone plugged in is when I’m out at KR Training. The range is remote enough that signal coverage isn’t that great. It’s not a total dead zone, but it’s certainly on the fringes. I can start with 100% battery and by mid-day be down to 50-60% having done nothing but walk around the property. It’s all because there’s such poor signal the device is constantly polling for signal and struggling to hang on to whatever signal it has. I’ve fiddled with some settings at times, because I don’t want to be totally out of touch. And in the end, I often just turn the phone off because nothing’s that critical to me.

However, I’ve found myself still wanting the phone at times for things like quick note-taking or to just check the time. Airplane mode is a big win here, especially with iOS 7’s Control Center. Just flick up, tap the Airplane icon, and we’re done. This is HUGE on keeping the phone working, yet turning off all the radios and preserving battery. What I also like is how, given the growth of in-flight Wi-Fi, you can go Airplane Mode, then also turn Wi-Fi on so you can have some data connection if you need it. I use this at KR Training so when I’m out on the range I keep the phone but don’t blow out my battery, then when I go back to the range house (where there’s Wi-Fi), I can send Messages to my Wife or whatever I need to do.

We love our iPhones. Apple is obviously making a big effort to improve energy use in iOS and Mac OS X. Developers are doing what they can to improve their apps to better utilize those energy-saving features. And of course, battery and other hardware will improve too, but at a slower pace than can software. Meantime, these are some real and good tips for actually improving your battery life.

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