In this part 3 as the last entry, I will report the result of our investigation on app-related battery consumption issue and its reality.
Android Apps’ Battery Consumption Issue
According to Trend Micro research, almost 47% of smartphone users in Japan are bothered by their device’s battery longevity.
Dubbed “PC on your palm” the smartphone’s design puts prime on portability, which inadvertently leads to battery resource issues. Previously, traditional feature phone devices did not have this concern, as their manufacturing companies were directly responsible for overall development and quality assurance of device’s components e.g. from device’s operating system up to its apps.
With smartphones, users can install third-party apps that are less dependent on the devices and their respective manufacturers. On the positive side, this brought changes to the apps market, in which new players can now participate and release their own apps. In turn, this made the app market dynamic and new apps are regularly introduced.
The downside, however, is that app development is not aligned with smartphone devices and their operating systems, making quality assurance more complicated and fragmented. Because anyone can join this market, even individuals with insufficient technical knowledge can easily release an app. This could be a reason why “potentially unwanted apps” consume too much device resource.
Resource Consumption Used by Free Android Apps
Sampling the top 200 apps (both general apps and game apps) among free apps on Google Play, for August 31, 2012, Trend Micro examined their resource consumption using Trend Micro Mobile App Reputation (MAR). The details of the sampled data are as follows:
Measuring battery consumption is not an easy task since it is determined by complex combination of apps and hardware. In MAR’s investigation, we created three levels of battery consumption using various combinations of factors such as network bandwidth, memory consumption, hardware used, etc.
In this case, we compared the battery consumption levels of 400 Android apps (200 general apps and 200 game apps).
As seen in Figure 1, 9% of general apps indicate “High” for battery consumption, while. 16.5% of the game apps indicate “High”. This shows that there are more battery-consuming game apps than general ones.
For game app , their excess consumption is possibly caused by high processing capabilities like 3D graphics etc. In this case we assume that users download these apps despite this fact. But there are apps with “high” battery resource despite having 2D graphics. These apps are designed without consideration of resource efficiency and could be regarded potentially dangerous or “egoistic” apps.
For general apps, 17 indicate “high” as they have high possibility to be recognized as “high risk apps” (“ego apps” in Japan) for many users. Among the 22 apps categories, these apps are distributed across 7 categories such as entertainment, finance, productivity, etc., which shows that such “ego apps” exist among various categories.
It is also important to check how the consumption level has changed after an app upgrades. This time, selecting 6 well-known social networking apps, we checked changes in their package size. As shown in Figure 2, some of them increased in size after the upgrades.
App developers continuously upgrade their apps to improve and enhance their features. With multi-featured apps, some unwanted and unnecessary features maybe added that may negatively affect resource consumption.
In Google Play, there is a specific security function for these upgrades. For example, even if users enabled automatic updates, this function will ask users to check the status and conduct the updates manually should the upgrade involve changes in access permissions.
On the other hand, there is no such function that notifies users when resource consumption changes. For this part, users themselves have to decide if they should continue to use their apps. To do this, users should consider installing a special monitoring app and/or enabling the same function on their devices.
Users must also be careful to not put too much attention on lowering battery consumption and in turn compromising the app’s usability. For example, cutting all the background communications for the security purpose may cause GPS inability, resulting to the difficult tracking of a device’s location should it be lost.
Trend Micro also provides such battery management app for smartphones called Trend Micro™ Longevity for Android™ (Trend Micro Battery Aid in Japan). This app has the specific function “Power Hog App Alerts” (Electricity Consumption Apps Scan in Japan) “, which is linked with apps’ battery consumption data from MAR. Power Hog App Alerts uses four levels to determine electricity consumption, ranging from “Heavy Weight” to “Light Weight”.
With this app, users can easily check an app’s battery consumption. In using this app, users can be informed of what apps to use sparingly, specially if they want to save their device’s battery life.
For Longer Battery Life and Device Safety, Use Eco Apps
As reported previously in Part 1 and Part 2, we tagged those apps with unwanted routines as “high-risk apps” (called “ego apps” in Japan), while those with positive attributes as “eco apps”. The prefix “eco” implies both “ecologically-conscious” and “economically-effective”. This means these apps consume device resource reasonably and extract user privacy information for legitimate purposes.
However, judging whether a certain app is “eco” or “ego” may differ per user. Users who use an “ego” app may disregard that it consumes much battery resource, so long as that app satisfies their needs and expectations.
But there are criteria that define whether an app is “eco” or ‘ego”. Some of these include “app’s unwanted routines”, “privacy leakage risks”, and “excess resource consumptions”.
To eliminate “ego apps” and increase “eco apps”, users must research about an app’s safety and efficiency and its developers’ reputation. Developers should also provide pertinent information to assist user’s judgment. For app market business enablers, they should conduct pre-release checking process and layer to ensure the good quality of their apps.
And if all users can utilize and maximize the information on the apps related safety, efficiency, and reputation from these respective points of view, then we can expect the more positive market flow that contributes to the good use and development of smartphone apps.
Trend Micro has released the white paper to report such reality of “eco” apps and “ego” apps in Japan. You can read the English version of its executive summary below.