Saturday, September 27, 2014

In Picking Form Over Function, Apple Gave The iPhone 6 A Lousy Battery

Thin is in. Or so Apple says.

The iPhone 6 is supermodel thin, at just 6.9 millimeters. The larger iPhone 6 Plus is barely thicker, at just 7.1. Contrast those to the “portly” iPhone 5s, at 7.6mm, and you can surely see the amazing innovation… Oh stop! Anyone who uses either the 5 or 5s already knows the phone is plenty skinny already. Sometimes, I’ve wondered over the past 2 years if it’s not too skinny as I’ve found it harder to maintain a solid grip around it versus the thicker iPhone 4/4s design. But more than anything, the geek in me has wondered if that svelte exterior has come at too high a price: It leaves precious room for a decent battery inside.

With the iPhone 6, Apple got a chance for a reset. The larger form factor of the phone — it’s grown about 27% in area to accommodate the 4.7-inch screen — means there is a lot more space inside to work with. But Apple made some design changes to the iPhone that have taken away some of that space. For the first time since the iPhone 3GS, it moved away from the “slab design” that has become iconic, instead favoring rounded edges deployed on the current iPads. It also insisted on slimming down the design even though the new iPhone won’t be able to claim any sort of world record.

And though the iPhone 6 won’t go on sale for 10 days, we already know what the result is vis a vis battery life because Apple’s vice president Phil Schiller told us at the product unveiling today: It’s essentially the same. As you can see in the included chart, the only meaningful upticks are for “audio”, which means listening to music or podcasts, and for various things on 3G, which is rapidly being phased in the U.S. for 4G LTE. Everything else is flat.

Many of you probably feel like the current iPhone has acceptable battery life and that more of the same will do just fine. For the power users reading this, you know differently. Take your phone out for a busy day of GPSing, mobile browsing, texting on the go and whatnot, and you can drain an iPhone to zero in just a couple of hours. Schiller basically told the world that experience will be the same with the iPhone 6, which would normally be good news for makers of external battery packs for the iPhone.

But if you’re going to need a slap a Mophie on the iPhone 6, you might as well get a 6 Plus instead . Because, there, Apple came through at least somewhat. Video use time is apparently 40% better than the 5s and browsing on LTE is 20% better with the 6 Plus. Those aren’t world-beating stats, but they are much stronger than the 10% and 0% improvements offered by the vanilla iPhone 6. Of course, this comes at a price: You’ll be dealing with a much larger phone. The 6 Plus is 20 mm longer and 10 mm wider (that’s 4/5 and 1/2 inches to most of you). In exchange, you’ll get a bigger display at 5.5 inches diagonally and more pixels too, 1920 x 1080 instead of 1334 x 750. The 6 Plus will also have a sharper display, at 401 pixels per inch (ppi) against 326 for the 6. Incidentally, the lower number is identical to the 5s and 5c, so it’s fairly sharp.

Apple doubtless had its reasons for seeking thinness. In part, it will help mitigate the shock of the otherwise much-larger overall phone. But it compromised its famously sleek design to get there. The camera now protrudes, ever so slightly, because the multi-element lens and module it uses can’t fit in the super-slim design. Had the company chosen to simply thicken up the new iPhone 6 to make that protruding edge disappear, it would not have been able to claim the thinnest iPhones ever, but it would have had substantially more room inside to increase the size of the battery. Rather than provide you false precision and claim “it could’ve been 30% larger,” suffice it to say that any increase would have reduced the number of days people found themselves with a dead phone. According to a survey done by FinancesOnline, 37% of iPhone users cited “better battery life” as their most wanted feature improvement – beating out all other upgrades.

Instead, Apple chose form over function. It concluded that additional thinness was needed to offset the additional size, even at the expense of improving what is almost certainly the worst feature of the current iPhone. With the company encouraging you to use the new model as a mobile wallet, the need for a reliable battery is that much more paramount. Apple packed a lot into today’s announcements, but when it even bothered to mention this topic, it could only say that things won’t be worse. That’s not good enough.

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