Saturday, November 22, 2014


Tech Talk

GPS is useful but draining

11/6/2013

There are two sacred cows in smartphone-user experience: battery life and constant connection to information. One of the best features of smartphones is the ability to notify users of new content through a background tool known as push notifications. For years popular services such as email, text messages and social networks have used push notifications to alert users of updates with little uproar, but a new trend in application development is pitting these two sacred cows against each other.

Since Foursquare wove user geographic location into the social media universe back in 2009, developers have been frothing at the mouth to capitalize on user location. Global positioning system (GPS) technology has been a standard feature on all smartphones since the original iPhone. At a moment’s notice, users can find directions, traffic information and local businesses, but too much GPS use drains the phone’s battery extremely fast.

Up until recently only heavy GPS users had to concern themselves with this battery drain, but Foursquare and its social locating brethren are changing that. Far too many users don’t understand one smartphone property in particular: When you click the home button on your phone, the application you were running does not quit, it is simply running in the background. Many applications will sit idle and do nothing, but some will continue processing.

A recent Foursquare update takes advantage of background processing capability by monitoring user location, sending push notifications if they happen to go near something that might interest them. Geo-locating users can also be achieved through cellular tower triangulation but is refined through occasional GPS. This constant monitoring is a death cocktail for smartphone batteries.

Luckily, Foursquare and many other GPS-enabled applications offer users the chance to opt out of its push notification service, but I’d wager many opt in without understanding the full effect the decision will have on their battery. And when push comes to shove, users won’t troubleshoot what is draining their battery. They’ll just start cutting out smartphone cancer, i.e. battery-killing apps, because what good is immediate information if your phone isn’t awake to receive it? CV

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Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. For more tech insights, follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb

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