Hypermiling your iPhone: Tips for ultimate battery life

October 7, 2011


A good friend of mine, and and fellow iPhone 4 owner, patient recently asked me if my iPhone “died by lunchtime” – his battery was dead, again, before the work day was over. When I told him I usually get three days between charges, he asked me to show him how to “hypermile” his iPhone.

Hypermiling comes from the engine and driving-habit modifications high-gas-mileage enthusiasts use to squeeze 40, 50 or more miles per gallon from fuel-efficient vehicles. As I apply the term hypermiling to the iPhone, I mean squeezing the maximum battery life possible out of my iPhone, and I regularly go up to three days between charges. Here are ten tips for hypermiling your iPhone:

  1. Disable 3G – Apple says the iPhone 4S can go “up to 8 hours on 3G, up to 14 hours on 2G” [http://www.apple.com/iphone/specs.html] – you’re doubling your battery life (or more), without sacrificing call quality by turning off 3G. Go to Settings->General->Network. And, let’s face it – up here in the mountains, the 3G coverage isn’t perfect in the first place. Unless you’re frantically using the Maps app to find your next exit, the speed difference isn’t likely to impact you. Turn on 3G when you’re actively using data in the big city. Otherwise, it’s a big drain on your battery.
  2. Turn off unused apps – especially GPS and other communication-heavy or persistent apps. Maps, Skype, and even my favorite workout app, Pedometer PRO GPS+, are all huge battery drainers, even when they’re sitting in the “background”. Get better battery life when you’re not actively using apps by double-clicking the home button, holding down on one of the active apps until you get the “X” to delete it from memory. Deleting an app from background/memory as shown in the screen shot here will NOT delete it from your phone – it just closes the program from running in the background to save battery life. Tap the home button again when you’re done, and enjoy your higher battery mileage.
  3. Kill Bluetooth – I know, most “how to save your battery” tips sound like “turn off everything useful on your phone”, but this is another battery drain if you’re not actively using a headset, keyboard, etc. Turn off Bluetooth, enjoy the extra battery life.
  4. Kill Wi-Fi when traveling – If you’re not at home or on campus where the wireless flows like free milk and honey, and especially if you’re on a long road trip, save battery life by turning off the unused Wi-Fi radio. Caveat: If you’re near free Wi-Fi, though, use it over 3G – you’ll not only save on data usage, you’ll get 50% more battery life (6 hours Internet use on 3G = 9 hours battery life on Wi-Fi).
  5. Set Auto-Lock to 1 minute – A lit screen means battery drainage. Set your screen to auto-lock after a shorter time, like 1 minute, so that you’re not using precious battery life after putting your iPhone on your desk or in your backpack.
  6. Drag your most-used apps to the first screen – spend less battery and time searching for your favorite apps. Use folders, or just move your most-used apps to the first screen (touch and hold the app, drag it to the left of the screen until it pops to the first home screen) for greater ease & efficiency.
  7. Take it easy on the brightness – A brighter screen means more watts powering the LED backlight. In addition to turning on auto-brightness (Settings->Brightness), slide the brightness to ¾ or ½ if you can handle it. Any dimmer gets hard on the eyes.
  8. Turn off push notifications – for those of you who aren’t Facebook addicts, turn off push notifications for each app at the bottom of the Settings screen, and turn off Notifications near the top of the Settings screen to kill sounds, alerts, etc. You can even go so far as turning off push email alerts under Mail, Contacts, Calendars settings, but I haven’t forced myself to turn off push email – how else can I get interrupted twenty times an hour with new email to read?
  9. In dire straits? Airplane Mode to the rescue! – If you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail for the day, spending a weekend in the woods, or you’re on Spring Break and left your charger at home, do not fear – you can squeeze ultimate battery life out of your iPhone by switching to Airplane Mode at the very top of the Settings screen. This turns off all radios (2G/3G, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth all), which means you can’t take calls or surf the web (Angry Birds works just fine, though). But, if you’re without a charger and need to make sure your battery lasts for emergency use, you can either turn off the phone or switch to Airplane Mode and just switch back when you need to make a call. I’ve had to do this on a trip or two, and it’s saved the day.
  10. Sync your iPhone – Okay, #10 is the lamest tip, and probably the least battery-impacting, but who can stop with a “top 9 list”? So, tether your iPhone to your laptop/desktop every now and then to update the OS. It’s rare that updates will save battery life, but it has happened in the past, and even Apple recommends it. See Apple’s take on battery hypermiling at http://www.apple.com/batteries/iphone.html .

If you’ve got other tips for maximizing battery life, please let me know with a comment below, or tweet me at @brysonpayne. Android-lovers & users of other phones, please know that I value you and know that you exist – if you’ve got usable tips for hypermiling your devices, or if you just want to brag about a great device for battery life, comment or tweet! Thanks, and enjoy your extended battery life!

About Bryson Payne

Author of Teach Your Kids to Code, Speaker, and Professor of Computer Science at the University of North Georgia.

View all posts by Bryson Payne

One Response to “Hypermiling your iPhone: Tips for ultimate battery life”

  1. Zac Says:

    Great article Dr. Payne! I will be getting an phone 4 now that the 4s is out so this is extremely helpful!


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