Over the past month, innovation at the application layer that makes more use of the iPhone’s location sensors has prompted a wider discussion about battery performance, battery extension packs, and what users will be willing to give up in exchange for battery drain. Just like the carrier’s business models that charge for voice and limit data hamper innovation and adoption as iOS continues to grow, the issue of battery strength and fidelity are of great importance to users. When iOS5 became available, nearly everyone complained about immediate battery degradation, the result of default settings that instructed the phone to constantly pull and push information to the notification bar.
But, there’s one basic issue related to iPhone batteries and AT&T specifically that people often overlook. I usually keep my iPhone on the old Edge network for telephone calls, because those calls never drop. AT&T’s 3G is useless for a mobile device. However, in the last week, I can no longer connect to Edge — I’m only connecting to 3G, and it’s not consistent. Friends have informed me that AT&T is phasing out Edge in order to free up spectrum for 3G (and maybe 4G, whatever), but the result for me is that my phone is always TRYING to connect to 3G, and that connection has little fidelity. In reality, the phone is almost constantly trying to connect to the towers, and that takes battery power, perhaps more power than a service like Highlight draws. I don’t know the specifics around battery draw between persistant GPS vs trying to find a cell tower, but if my brief experience provides any indicator, AT&T’s choices also deserve a good part of the blame.