Apple iPhone 4S users are in the worst place Apple users can be: Somewhere between a possible iPhone 4S battery life pandemic and official acknowledgement of the issue by Cupertino with usage guidelines and a fix timeframe. Apple’s newest iPhone hit shelves in the U.S. on October 14, and since then threads have appeared across the web, including on Apple’s support site, with thousands of users reporting the iPhone 4S delivers far less than it’s supposed to in standby battery hours and minutes.
Apple specs the iPhone 4S for 200 hours of standby time, compared to the iPhone 4’s 300 hours. But the 4S is supposed to offer an hour more of 3G talk time (eight versus iPhone 4’s seven hours), up to 14 hours of 2G talk time, up to six hours for 3G browsing, and up to nine hours browsing with Wi-Fi.
But in practice, many claim the phone delivers far less, draining well beyond spec even when lying unused or powered off.
“My iPhone 4s battery seems terrible! Almost equivalent to my 3GS and it’s [sic] terrible battery life,” wrote a user on Apple’s support forums a day after the iPhone 4S debuted, kickstarting a thread that’s seen 2,622 replies and 174,000 views since. “When I got my iPhone yesterday and restored from backup I noticed nothing really changed with minimal usage and standby!”
Scan that thread and you’ll find a chorus of disenchanted Apple fans. One says the iPhone 4S “seems to lose 1% every 3-4 minutes, even when locked/asleep.” Another reports experiencing “a 10-15% drop per hour,” despite having “almost everything turned off.” A third says that after unplugging a fulling charged 4S, “after an hour” and “very little use, 10 percent of the battery is gone.” And so forth, for over 175 pages and roughly a dozen posts per page.
To be fair, Apple users like to complain, sometimes about the most innocuous things. I remember a thread years ago about lines appearing across the displays of certain MacBook Air LCD screens. I had one at the time that fell within the range of models purportedly affected, so I checked. If you conjured an all-white backdrop, cranked the brightness way up past usable, and stuck your eyeballs a few inches from the screen, you could almost make out a faint wave-like pattern. Almost. Was that worth anyone’s attention, the handful of obsessive-compulsive grumblers aside? Probably not.
That’s not to wave off the so-called iPhone 4S battery problem, which sounds anything but cosmetic. The trouble, both for iPhone 4S users as well as Apple, is the usual tech bugaboo: diagnosing a glut of disparate symptoms from a behaviorally chaotic group. That, and without a diagnostic app running on the phone, Apple’s left to sort mostly anecdotal evidence, and all the “bad-user-on-device” issues pursued can add up to enormous support costs.
Still, Apple’s public relations typically botches product hiccups. Instead of getting in front of the issue, Apple deals with its user base by publicly ignoring them while quietly working behind the scenes to diagnose, repair and quietly issue updates, even then only acknowledging the problem indirectly.
The good news: The Guardian reported last Friday that Apple engineers were getting in touch with iPhone 4S owners to troubleshoot the issue. One user told the Guardian that Apple had asked him to install a “monitoring program” to help diagnose the problem. And as CNET points out, the issue may now be reminiscent of “antennagate,” a problem for which Apple eventually issued a public statement and a software update (though CNET reminds that antennagate affected everyone, and it’s not yet clear that’s the case with the 4S’s battery issues).
As for guesses about what’s causing the problem, speculation still runs the gamut, from the 4S’s more powerful A5 processor to claims that Apple’s location service is flawed and that iOS 5 may be the culprit.