Battery-heavy mobile apps are the ultimate user experience killers. They limit the time users can spend, not only with that app, but with their mobile device in general. If the app drains the power, it drains it for all apps installed – that’s a big deal.

That’s why the internet is full of articles explaining why you should delete battery-heavy apps.

This is a huge problem for the developer as well – after a poor experience like that, users will stay away from other apps from the same development studio. They will also consider the developers unprofessional and deaf to the users’ feedback.


The Screen Issue

smartphone battery life

Image Source: Flickr / Min-chang Kim

Optimizing a mobile app for minimal energy consumption is no easy task – you should keep in mind not to destroy usability, user interface or the overall user experience in the process.

We discussed the issue with Graham Bower, co-creator of the Reps & Sets mobile app for the iOS, to better understand which features are the biggest energy consumers, to break a few mobile myths, and to see what developers can do to minimize power consumption without sacrificing the user experience. Even though there are many features to today’s smartphones that are capable of heavy battery drain, such as network consumption, processing power, working in background, notifications, or various sensors, there’s one that stands out – the display.

It seems as the display is the biggest battery killer – especially for apps that keep the phone ‘awake’ (keep the screen turned on) for extensive periods of time.

“For our app, Reps & Sets, the most battery-intensive aspect is that a lot of users want to keep the screen on during their entire workout,” he told us. “We provide an optional setting to support this (which stops the phone from sleeping), but this is turned off by default to preserve battery.” Thus, optimizing for minimum energy consumption means more than just deciding which smartphone features to use and when – it stretches all the way to the very core of app design.  The screen is a good example – having it turned on for a longer period of time is in the core of this app’s design – yet it’s ruining the user experience by draining too much battery. The app itself needs to be designed around the device’s various features, keeping in mind how they behave in different situations (in this case – when they’re operating longer than usual).


Designing the UI for Longevity

mobile app UI

Image Source: Bigstock/ 31moonlight31

It’s not just the device’s physical elements (the screen or sensors, for example) that mobile app developers need to pay attention to – even user interface itself – the mobile app’s front end, can excessively drain battery, if not properly designed. “User interface designs that make intense use of 3D graphics, or that result in an unnecessarily high amount of database queries or network chatter will drain battery.” This brings us to another important conclusion – at some point, you’ll have to make the tough decision of going for one of the two – either less battery power, or less intensive visuals / less database queries.

Bower did break an urban mobile app development myth – a black background can conserve power on a couple of smartwatches and on certain types of smartphones – but definitely not on all of them.

“User interface design can certainly affect battery life, but not the color of the background – at least not on an iPhone,” he says. “It’s true that on an OLED screen, such as the one on Apple Watch, the black background can save battery life. But an iPhone screen is different – all the pixels are illuminated, regardless of what color they are.”

This has very interesting implications for mobile app developers – not only do you have to think about which features their app will use, and how to design the app around those features, but you also need to think about all the different devices the app will be used on and how they will behave ‘in the wild’ – even if they’re on the same operating system.

But what if they’re on different operating systems? Say, iOS and Android? Bower could not answer from his own experience, given that Reps & Sets is an iOS-exclusive, but one thing is clear – developers should always keep in mind the large and fragmented mobile market. Also – they should always look for new and innovative solutions. In this case – the smartwatch.

“We do from time to time get feedback from users saying our app drains their batteries though this does not seem to be a major issue,” he says. “The reason usually turns out to be that they are keeping it on during their entire workout. That is one of the reasons we have introduced the Watch app, which provides a more power-efficient way of glancing at the app while you are working out, without needing to leave the app on the entire time.”

If your app drains a lot of battery by design – it’s not the end of the world. As you can see from Bower’s example, there is always a solution, even if it means employing new and innovative technologies.


Looking Ahead

smartphone battery

Image Source: Bigstock/ vectorplus

Energy consumption on mobile devices is a huge challenge for everyone involved. Smartphones are being used for pretty much everything we do nowadays. They are also getting bigger screens and faster processors, while our battery technology is basically stuck in the eighties. The battery might be a single element that developers must keep in mind, but it alone has many variables that need to be accounted for.

Battery consumption is a thing of app design and sometimes, developers will have to sacrifice some elements for the sake of app’s longevity. You also need to consider not only different operating systems, but also different smartphone models on same systems – two iPhones with different types of screens will react completely different to the same app.

There are two ways to go about the solution, and both should be employed. One is to keep the battery in mind from the very first moments of app design and build your product around the problem of battery drain. The second one is – getting creative with new technologies.

There is always a solution – sometimes it’s designing your app around power consumption, sometimes it’s just tweaking your app to be more energy-efficient, and sometimes it’s using new technologies and pushing the boundaries forward.