Free Smartphone Apps Waste Power, Study Finds

Dennis Faas's picture

A recent study has found that some smartphone applications unnecessarily waste battery life. The worst offenders appear to be free games that make money for their developers by bombarding gamers with advertising.

Most free apps fall into one of three categories:

  • Promotional tools or pieces of larger information campaigns.
  • Trial or demo versions of apps that charge for their "full" version.
  • Advertising-supported apps that normally display advertising as they operate.

Excessive App Power Use: Researchers Identify Causes

Apps in the third category -- ad supported -- have attracted the interest of two researchers at Purdue University in Indiana. Supported by Microsoft's research department, they have been developing a method to calculate exactly how much power an application uses.

Their study follows on the heels of a recent survey reporting that battery life is the factor most likely to affect customer satisfaction with a smartphone.

According to that survey, battery life alone can determine whether a consumer returns a device for a refund or sticks with the same brand when they upgrade. (Source:

The Purdue researchers examined six applications on both Android and Windows Phone devices. Unfortunately, they couldn't do the same with iPhones because Apple put technical restrictions in place.

The researchers found that, in the popular game Angry Birds, just 20 per cent of the energy used by the app went toward the game itself.

Fully 45 per cent was used to check the player's current location in order to display specially targeted advertising. The remaining 35 per cent went for showing the ads themselves.

The other ad-supported apps revealed a similar pattern of energy usage. (Source:

Using current smartphone technology, checking a phone's location and transferring the details to the computers providing advertising to that phone require an Internet connection. Using a 3G phone network for these purposes, as was the case for the Purdue University testing, requires a great deal of energy.

Apps Waste Power Through Poor Design

However, the study found that part of the energy used by these apps is avoidable, and results primarily from sloppy coding.

The researchers found that some apps held the Internet connection open for up to 10 seconds after the app no longer needed it. They calculated that as much as 25 per cent of the Angry Birds app's total battery drain was wasted in this way.

Whether it's worth avoiding free ad-supported apps will depend on the user's choice. Those upset over limited battery life may choose to avoid battery-wasting apps. Another strategy would be to select WiFi connections wherever possible, as they use less power.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet