The free/ad-supported app market is great, right? You get apps, with absolutely nothing to pay, and no real downside, right? Wrong. All those ads being pushed to your device — and the location data needed to push you the right ads — are killing your phone or tablet's battery. The research for this one comes out of Purdue University, published by Microsoft Research. The battery usage of six popular smartphone apps were tested and profiled based on the power drain of the app itself versus what was being spent on advertising, location services and other non-app portions of the software. Windows Mobile and Android were the platforms of choice; that's not just because it's a Microsoft study, but also because the locked-down nature of iOS made running the team's tests impossible.
So what kind of battery breakdown are we talking here? Well, to use Angry Birds as an example, the report suggests that only 20 per cent of the app's battery usage is actually related to flinging avians; the rest of it comes down to advertising, location services and keeping a connection open after you've quit the app for fast switching; in the case of Angry Birds that connection (which was tested over 3G) eats up more than 25 per cent of the total power usage.
I'm not entirely surprised by those findings — it's not as though the ads magically appear on the device at no cost — but it's an interesting look into one side of the economics of "free" apps, both from a development and power usage standpoint.