Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

How to: improve your iPhone’s battery life

iPhone 4

It seems to be a fact of life that the longer you have an iPhone, the worse the battery life gets. But it shouldn’t be this way. There’s actually quite a few things you can do to maximise your iPhone’s battery so that it’ll last longer between charges. Some are just disabling things you probably don’t use or don’t need; others may require a change in habits. Either way, hopefully by following this advice you can squeeze some extra juice out of your phone.

The Theory

(feel free to skip this section if you just want the actual tips, rather than a technical explanation)

Phones have always been essentially small computers with processors, and smartphones are even more like computers, with installable apps. The more work a processor has to do, the more power it needs, and your phone’s battery can only provide a finite amount of power before it runs out. Plus, over time, the capacity of rechargeable batteries decreases as they are charged up and run down, so the amount of power available gets less and less as the phone gets older. And on an iPhone, you can’t replace the battery as it’s not a user-serviceable part.

Because of the finite amount of power available, you want to ensure that your processor is running as efficiently as possible – i.e. by doing as little as possible, and that any other components drawing power are either off or used sparingly.

So here’s what we’re going to do:

Turn off Ping

Ping is Apple’s social network for music discovery, but really it’s just a way to get people to buy more things from the iTunes Store. If you’re like me, you’ll have signed up for it but probably not used it much after that. It’s probably best, therefore, to turn it off; to do so, open Settings, choose Restrictions and then disable it there. You’ll need to set a passcode to do this as it’s normally a parental control feature

Disable unnecessary push notifications

Push notifications were one of the big new features of iOS 4.0 back in 2010, and whilst they’re useful, they do drain the battery. It’s best to limit them to things that you actually need to be notified about, like emails, calendar alerts or messages. You probably don’t need the app for your local restaurant to send you notifications, or a game, for example. In the Settings app, choose Notifications and then go through each app in turn – if you don’t want to receive any notifications for that app, just disable all of the options on the page.

Turn off push email

Unless you need to be notified of every email as soon as you get it, open Settings, choose Mail, Contacts, Calendars and choose Fetch New Data. Set ‘Push’ to off; you can also disable polling for email or change it to hourly if you still want notifications but not as urgently. Set it to manually if you’d rather ‘pull’ new email messages as and when you want to. You can also set the advanced settings so that you can have regular checks for work emails only, for example.

Disable location services

You can disable location services completely should you wish, and this may be beneficial if you’re particularly low on battery, but it will mean that you can’t use Maps or any app that needs your location, like Foursquare, and if you lose your phone, Find my Phone won’t work as well. Better to limit which apps can use your location, like you did with Push notifications. In Settings, choose Location Services, and go through the list.

Turn off Wi-fi when out and about

If you’re moving around, there’s not much point in having Wi-fi on, and having your phone regularly searching for access points may wear down the battery. If you’re not in range of a hotspot that you want to use, turn it off.

No signal? Turn on Airplane Mode

If you’re in an area with no signal, either because you’re in the middle of nowhere or underground, it’s probably best to enable Airplane Mode. Otherwise, your phone will keep trying to connect to non-existent phone masts and this uses up a lot of power. Similarly, if you’re on a train that keeps going in and out of tunnels, and you don’t need the internet or to receive calls or texts, it may be best to stick Airplane Mode on for a while as each time you enter a tunnel you’ll lose connection. You can turn Wi-fi on in Airplane Mode if you’re in a hotspot.

Clear the multi-tasking queue

Another feature of iOS 4.0 was multi-tasking, which allowed apps to do certain things in the background. Sometimes these background tasks can use up a lot of power – Skype is one such culprit – and therefore it’s probably a good idea to clear any apps that you aren’t using once a week or so. To access this, double-tap the home button, and you should see a line of 4 icons appear (these will be the 4 apps you’ve used most recently). Swipe from right to left to scroll through the list; if there are any apps that you don’t use any often, tap and hold the icon until the jiggle about, and then press the red button in the corner to kill them. This is also a way of killing apps that have hung and won’t quit.

Download big files over Wi-fi rather than 3G

If you have a file that’s more than a few megabytes to download, wait until you’re at home or at a Wi-fi hotspot to download it, even if you have unlimited 3G data. It’s more power efficient to do so on Wi-fi than 3G.

Disable 3G

If you’re in an area with no 3G, or just aren’t bothered about the higher speeds that 3G offers over GPRS/EDGE, then you can turn off 3G so that your phone won’t waste battery power trying to look for a 3G network. In Settings, choose General, and then Network, then disable 3G. You may not be able to disable on this on some networks, such as 3 in the UK (the network I use) as 3 doesn’t have a 2G network of its own, but leases capacity from another operator.

Uninstall unnecessary apps

We’ve looked at stopping apps from using push notifications, location services and background tasks, but sometimes you’ll find that you have an app on your phone that you never use, in which case, it’s probably best just to get rid of it altogether. That way, it can’t use up any resources

Turn your phone off from time to time

Just as computers need restarting every now and again, I find that restarting the phone every once in a while (every couple of weeks) makes it run a bit better, at least for a time. Plus, if your battery is a bit low, you can just turn the phone off for a while if you don’t need it, rather than putting in Airplane Mode; whilst airplane mode does use less power, you’ll save more by turning it off completely.

If all else fails…

If after following all of these instructions you’re still finding that your phone’s battery doesn’t last all day, you can try a few other things:

  1. You could carry around a backup battery – I recently reviewed a cheap one from Amazon which seemed to work quite well.
  2. Carry around a spare cable and plug, so that you can plug your phone in to charge. If you’re at work, plug your phone in to your computer to charge it, if you’re allowed to. And a number of trains and even coaches now provide power sockets for people to use, so you can charge it up whilst someone else pays the electricity bill.
  3. Booking an appointment at a Genius Bar. It may be that your iPhone has a duff battery and it isn’t holding charge as well as it should, so get it checked out. Make sure you do a full backup of your phone in iTunes first though, as if it is found to be defective, chances are you’ll be given a complete replacement handset rather than your existing phone with a new battery.

Following these tips, I’ve been able to get my battery to last a bit longer, despite my phone being around 18 months old and being used heavily.

Hat tip to Lifehacker, as I picked up a number of these tips from How to Speed Up, Clean Up, and Revive Your iPhone and How to Improve Your iPhone’s Battery Life.

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