Why pay money for something you can get for free? Well it seems, as far as smartphone apps are concerned, free might not always be best. According to a new paper from Purdue University which was reported in the NewScientist, free apps may be one of the leading causes for the limited battery life of many leading smartphones these days. The paper goes on to state that up to 75% of the energy used by free versions of many Android apps is spent on pushing advertisements, or tracking and uploading user data. The most incredible statement being one which posited that running one app could drain your battery in as little as 90 minutes!
Computer scientist Abhinav Pathak and his colleagues discovered this insight after developing software to analyze the energy use of smartphone apps. After analyzing such popular titles as Angry Birds, Free Chess and the NYTimes, they uncovered that only 10-30% of the app’s energy usage actually goes to running the core app’s core functions.
Angry Birds (which is an app that pretty much anyone with a smartphone is familiar with) spends only 20% of its energy consumption on running the game as well as animating its namesake and their enemies, the devilish pigs. While a whopping 45% of the energy is used to upload the user’s location with GPS and then download location-sensitive ads over 3G. So the app’s main function becomes to perpetuate advertisings to the user instead of support the game. And even if the data transmission is completed before the 10 second 3G window closes, there is a “tail energy” which consumes an additional 28% of the app’s energy. Pathak faults the energy leakage on third-party codes which developers use to ensure profits for developing a free app. The full results of the study with be presented in Bern, Switzerland next month at EuroSys.
The old adage I began this article with might not hold true, but it does seem that there really ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. You’ll be paying for the app in one way or another, either with money or battery life. So next time you have to choose between the free version and the paid app, think carefully.