The iPhone 4S is just the latest example of a phone's battery life falling short of some users' expectations.
Before this battery drain debacle, iOS 4 users complained of similar issues, as did owners of the iPhone 3GS. And Apple's not the only phone maker to take heat. HTC's Evo 4G got criticized for weak battery life last year. So did the original Droid before that. New phones like the Droid Charge suffer from disappointing battery life as well.
Obviously, there's a bigger problem here, bigger than the iPhone 4S and bigger than Android: smartphone batteries stink. What we need is a breakthrough.
Sure, a decent smartphone can probably make it through the day with moderate use. But I don't know of any smartphone that can endure a full day of heavy use. Did you make a few long phone calls, or watch a movie, or go on a crazy Angry Birds binge? You better keep your phone holstered for the next few hours if you want enough power for the commute home.
And how ridiculous is it that shutting down Wi-Fi, turning off notifications and lowering your screen brightness is considered "sensible battery life management practices," as my colleague Ian Paul put it? I'm sorry, but smartphone users shouldn't have to do those things. Our phones should shine brightly. Let the notifications flow. Users should never have to micromanage Wi-Fi, 3G and GPS. They should be on, all the time, ready to use.
Unfortunately, that kind of use just isn't practical on today's smartphones. If you want to the phone to last a day, you must conserve. And with the rise of battery-draining 4G LTE, the need to curtail your use is only getting worse.
So this is my rallying cry. Smartphone makers: the next big breakthrough shouldn't be about how many processor cores or megapixels you can cram into a handset, or how many millimeters you can shave off the casing. It should about getting through a full day of heavy use, and having enough juice left over to last through the next day if necessary. Let's see a true 24-hour battery.
There's hope in new approaches, like the kinetic charging patented by Nokia, or the "subconscious mode" of idle operation researched at the University of Michigan. (Nvidia's Tegra 3 processors actually have a fifth core that serves a similar purpose, using minimal power for basic tasks.) Some day, photovoltaic cells could replace lithium-ion batteries, and stay charged by converting waste heat into energy. Or, lithium-sulfur batteries, researched by Stanford University, could provide up to four times more power.
Until we get a battery life breakthrough, some people are always going to complain about how long their phones last on a charge. That's the nature of getting a new phone like the iPhone 4S. You want to play with it for hours, but your heart sinks as the battery meter slides toward empty. It's time for a change.