Free mobile apps drain your battery?

iPhoneThere’s been plenty of speculation about why some iPhone users experience high data usage, but how is your battery use? Some days my iPhone 4S seems to cope pretty well, while others the battery counter drops like a stone. The BBC is reporting on some research by a team from Purdue University that claims free mobile apps can drain your battery.

How does that work? Well, free mobile apps are more likely to be supported by advertising than paid ones and it’s that advertising that seems to be the culprit.

When you’re playing a game you downloaded for free, the developer most likely wants to be compensated for the time they spent building the app. So they build in an advertising delivery system that pulls adverts over the Internet. When an advert is seen or, perhaps, interacted with, the developer gets a little bit of cash to encourage them to keep on developing.

The thing is, those adverts do use an Internet connect (perhaps that’s something to think about when it comes to data usage too) and may be targeted depending on your location. Opening a data connection to send the phone’s location and download adverts takes power… hence the idea that free, advertising supported apps use more power than others.

During their research, the team looked at Angry Birds can came up with the surprising result that around 20% of the energy used to run the game is used to power gameplay. That’s 80% on advertising, and 45% of that is used just to work out your location. Quite apart from the numbers themselves being surprising, Angry Birds isn’t a free app… but it does still serve apps up when you pause the game.

So, what are we meant to do? The research report’s author says developers must take energy consumption more seriously, and I agree with him. Apps should be optimised to avoid unnecessary drain on batteries. After all, you don’t want to have to recharge your phone every hour or so just because you’re enjoying a game. But can we ever get rid of this over-the-Internet advertising phenomenon? I don’t think we can. While there are still people who balk at paying 69p for an app, there will be a huge demand for free mobile software. And while people still have to pay their bills and buy their food, developers will look for ways to generate some income from this free app “market”.

At the moment, the only way to make money without asking users to pay would seem to be advertising and, while some optimisation wouldn’t go amiss, that’s always going to use more battery than if there’s no advertising present.

I’m curious to know your thoughts on this. Does advertising in apps annoy you or do you see it as a necessary evil in order to enjoy free downloads? Do you notice high battery usage when playing free apps as opposed to paid ones? Tell us your thoughts on these questions, or anything else to do with this story in the comments. Go on, I’d love to know what you think. 

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