60-Second Science

Free Apps Drain Battery

Some free apps use the majority of the energy they pull on tasks other than the app itself--such as uploading user info and downloading ads. Christopher Intagliata reports

Free smart phone apps might seem like a deal. But they can have a hidden cost: your phone's battery life. That's because free apps often serve up ads, which can drain your battery more than using the app itself does.

Researchers built a tool called Energy Profiler, which breaks down how apps consume energy. Then they analyzed popular free Android apps like Angry Birds and Free Chess. Turns out both apps used only a quarter of their total consumed energy on game-play. The other three quarters went to advertising—things like user tracking, uploading user info and downloading ads. The findings were presented at the European Conference on Computer Systems. So, just as there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there are really no free apps. [Abhinav Pathak, Y. Charlie Hu, Ming Zhang, "Where is the energy spent inside my app? Fine Grained Energy Accounting on Smart Phones with Eprof"]

The research team found a different energy leak when they did a Google search on the Android browser. The search happened in a blink. But the phone's 3G hardware stayed in high power mode for up to seven seconds afterward, eating up much more energy than the search itself. You may not be able to avoid that energy suck—the researchers say it's just how 3G networks behave.

—Christopher Intagliata

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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