Battery life a growing issue as more activities go mobile
January 30, 2014
As consumers and marketers move more activities over to mobile devices, battery life is becoming a bigger challenge and creating unwanted obstacles.
On the one hand, it is definitely convenient for a consumer to be watching a video on a smartphone, be served an ad for a pair of shoes and click through to the site to purchase them all on a mobile device. However, smartphone batteries may not be able to handle of this activity, and marketers should keep this in mind when approaching the channel.
“Mobile devices serve as our wallets, our alarm clocks, our social hubs, our news portals and much more, and in many ways, our lives are becoming centered around our devices, so battery life is already an incredibly important issue,” said Mack McKelvey, managing partner at SalientMG, Baltimore, MD. “The number of industries and activities being transformed by mobile will only continue to grow, so ensuring that consumers can always stay connected is an issue that impacts all of the major players in the space.
“While this is certainly an issue for the handset manufacturers to solve, the implications on marketers are quite severe,” she said. “Marketers are creating richer and richer mobile experiences that count on the consumer having access to their phone for an extended period of time, such as an entertainment studio that runs an ad with a mobile trailer, gives consumers the option to buy tickets and then allows the consumer to download a digital ticket to their device.
“This one ad basically fulfills every step of the purchase funnel, but if the phone dies in the middle of the campaign, the completion could be jeopardized and the experience tainted.”
These days marketers are losing out if they are not on mobile. Consumers can access a wallet on mobile, they can book a flight on mobile, they can redeem a coupon on mobile, and the possibilities are growing every day.
The problem is that smartphones have a finite amount of battery, especially since consumers tend to prefer lighter, smaller phones over clunky, heavy devices. Not only that, but the design of the phones itself sometimes eats away at battery.
Apple’s moving tile design in iOS 7 takes a chunk of battery life, as does the default setting that brightens a phone’s screen when Passbook is opened so that QR codes can be scanned. The devices themselves are a battery suck.
It is true that many consumers carry around chargers with them or can find them in an airport terminal or even a retailer, but this requires a consumer on the go to tether themselves to an outlet while waiting for the charge to fill. There are also charging cases and back-up battery products, but these too are mere bandaids to the issue at hand.
The challenges only increase when the discussion shifts to wearables. These devices inherently have more battery troubles because of the nature of the devices: Consumers do not want a huge battery in smart glasses or a smart watch.
These devices force manufacturers to fit in smaller batteries that wield less power. For instance, the battery life of Google Glass only lasts about three hours.
“If you get past smartphones this becomes even a bigger issue in wearables,” said Carl Howe, vice president of consumer research at Yankee Group, Boston. “Wearables’ batteries are the No. 1 challenge for wearables.
“They’re generally smaller and have to be more fashionable,” he said. “You don’t want to have a big hump off the screen.
“You have to be more choosy about what parts you use and how you spend that precious battery power. If you put a bigger battery nobody’s going to wear them because putting big stuff on your head is just not fun.”
Another challenge is the shift to “always-on” technology.
“The main increase on battery life drain is going to be always-on sensors for smart accessories, especially wearables,” said Nick Spencer, senior practice director at ABI Research, New York. “Certainly, having your NFC function on all the time fits into this category.
“Heart rate sensors and pedometers will have near constant connection via radio frequency technologies like Bluetooth, and these need intelligent power management,” he said.
The manufacturers approach
Apple and Android both seem to be cognizant of the battery challenge and are continuously improving battery power for their smartphones. They work with their chipset partners and their own chipsets and power management specialists to combat battery life issues.
According to Yankee Group’s Mr. Howe, Apple is actually doing a pretty good job when it comes to batteries.
“Apple’s actually one of the best companies in terms of using their batteries well,” he said. “In terms of the amount of time they get out of their battery and efficiency, they’re one of the best.
“They use fairly small batteries. And as a result the total battery life may be smaller but you also have a smaller device and a device that doesn’t generate a lot of heat.”
Mr. Howe believes that Android is less efficient and uses unnecessarily large batteries, which generates more heat and adds weight. Larger batteries also take longer to charge.
Apple inherently has an advantage here because of their control over all aspects of smartphones.
“They have the best balance of battery and hardware and software because they control all three of those, and they make some decisions about what things are most important and how they can best provide a reasonable compromise,” said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD, Port Washington, NY.
“One of the advantages Apple has is when you control both the hardware and the operating system and the processor, you can figure out the best ways to manage that process and you can drive a lot of efficiencies and you can make decisions,” he said. “Is it more important to have more battery life, do you do it through operating system, a low processor, a bigger battery, a bigger device?
“Because they have that level of control, I think history says that they tend to make the best decisions about that in that context.”
While the manufacturers work to improve battery life, marketers still need to do their part.
Some retailers are taking more literal approaches and installing charging solutions in-store. For instance, Urban Outfitter’s in-store charging station can draw in consumers while at the same time connecting them to in-store Wi-Fi, creating an opportunity to communicate with consumers via charging phones (see story).
Starbucks has even been experimenting with wireless chargers in its Silicon Valley stores (see story).
Until wireless charging becomes more widespread, however, mobile marketers and app developers need to keep battery life in mind when rolling out new mobile products.
“Marketers need to consider what the installed base of devices and OS versions is in a given market,” ABI’s Mr. Spencer said. “If they are creating apps and experiences that utilize sensors, then they need to consider how many potential customers will have devices that can handle these experiences from a device hardware and software version perspective.
“Battery life is big part of the user experience, and if a customer has a bad experience, they won’t come back easily,” he said. “People really rely on their handsets and don’t want that compromised. Also, if a brand markets a new app or service to customers, the majority of which can’t actually use the service, then that won’t help customer relations and will damage the brand.”
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York
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