Missed opportunity: iPhone 4 slims down instead of boosting battery
June 7, 2010 by Bill Palmer
Apple’s new iPhone 4 is a major step forward for smartphones and represents a strong enough value that users will (including me) will be tempted to upgrade whether they care about any of its new features or not. The bottom line is that iPhone 4 is much faster, comes at a great price, gives app developers room to run in terms of pushing the envelope, and the new iPhone is twenty-four percent thinner while managing to offer a mere “forty percent” boost in battery life, which the actual by-use breakdown suggests is even lower for screen-turned-on functions. Wait, what? Ask any iPhone user, whether it be the biggest power user you know or your grandmother who has only installed three apps, what their biggest hardware wish and/or complaint about the iPhone is, and nearly all of them will say the same thing: “make the battery last longer.” While the iPhone already has similar to favorable battery life in comparison to competing smartphones and other cellphones in general, it’s not enough. It’s not even close to enough now that Apple continues to pile on new ways it wants us to use our iPhones, many of which involve the screen being turned on and the battery life being used up ever more quickly.
Video chatting? Battery hog. Recording HD video? Battery Hog. Editing video in an iMovie app? Battery hog. Reading digital books and now PDFs in iBooks? Battery hog. It’s gotten to the point where the only two major functions you can do with an iPhone with the screen turned off are listen to music or talk on the phone, and while those are arguably still the two most popular uses for the iPhone 4, users nonetheless find themselves having to ration their iPhone battery life more than ever. And unlike a simple music player like the iPod touch, or even the mighty iPad, running out of battery life on those devices doesn’t put your life in danger if your car happens to break down in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. As someone who once got stranded in the middle of downtown Los Angeles in the middle of the night back in late 2007 after one late train caused me to miss another, after I had already drained my iPhone’s battery life to zero during the course of the day and thus finding myself in a position where I couldn’t even call a cab, I can tell you that you may be literally risking your life by allowing your iPhone’s battery to get used up too quickly. Since that time, I rarely leave the driveway without some form of extra iPhone battery life in tow, which gets the job done but is ridiculous (just as would be having to carry a second internal iPhone battery in my other pocket; the geeks planning to leave a snarky comment about the iPhone’s non-removable battery can just shut up now; their argument is irrelevant and no one cares what geeks have to say about the iPhone anyway).
I understand Apple’s desire to make its products progressively ever less bulky. But we’re not talking about toys like the iPod here; it’s your phone. Preserving battery life is the number one priority for cellphone users, and giving them more battery life is the single most important benefit a cellphone manufacturer could ever give its customers. Instead, Apple bizarrely decided to cut the iPhone to three quarters its thickness, when filling up that extra space instead with a larger battery might have, I don’t know, perhaps even DOUBLE the iPhone’s battery life? And instead Apple chose to make the iPhone 4 thinner for no apparent reason other than the fact that it could. Technical advancements only qualify as “innovation” if they actually benefit users; otherwise it’s just engineers playing games.
Don’t get me wrong: overall, the iPhone 4 is a fantastic new phone, leaps and bounds of the iPhone 3G or 3GS, and anyone who can afford the $199 to $299 to upgrade to one should do so. But because Apple neglected to address the one major issue that mainstream iPhone users wanted to see addressed (hint: it wasn’t making it thinner, nor was it multitasking), those planning to upgrade to the iPhone 4 will also have to budget another fifty to a hundred bucks to purchase a corresponding new iPhone battery case or cradle. Apple could have, and by all rights should have, put the third party iPhone battery industry out of business today for all but the most hoggish of uber-power users… but for some reason Apple completely whiffed in this area.