So Highlight didn’t “win” SXSW, as some tech bloggers had hypothesized, for many reasons. It did however have a close relationship to what eventually ended up winning, as its background GPS turns out to significantly strain iPhone battery life.
Even before SXSW, users were reporting notable reduction in battery charge when using Highlight, on average going from two days to one day of use per full charge while the app is running.
In the mobile app battleground that is SXSW Interactive, the battery drain was even more pronounced. People crowded round the charging stations some startups had set up. “ABC: Always be charging,” was a running joke amongst techies. At some point I even saw a woman at a restaurant using a charger as a scrunchie.
While I didn’t uninstall Highlight for the sake of my battery life like some, I did turn off its location (Settings > General > Location Services) and resorted to plain old text messaging and Foursquare to navigate Austin.
In fact, Highlight actually worked really well for me the moment I left Texas, pinging me when I was randomly near David Tisch and Lockhart Steele (two people I wanted to connect with) in the East Village in New York, and leading me to believe that the app is best suited for user sparsity and NOT density.
Other bloggers with Highlight and other battery-heavy apps installed (we were all trying to figure out who would “win”!) experienced this drain too, and as bloggers are wont to do, wrote about it.
Specifically calling out Highlight, AllThingsD’s Liz Gannes brought up the battery life issue in a sharp post about how apps are extending our phones’ technological capacities, “App developers push the possibilities of how to use our smartphones’ location awareness and reach well beyond what our mobile data plans and battery lives seem to be able to support,” Gannes wrote, “especially in densely populated spaces.”
MG Siegler wrote, “My single biggest takeaway from SXSW was all the talk about battery life. Every single person. All the time. People changing plans because they needed to recharge their phones. People walking around with chargers. People who were chargers. Mophies galore.”
Yes Mophies, the slip on battery packs that double your iPhone’s battery life (8 hours of talk time, 6 hours of internet on 3g, Apple claims), were indeed ubiquitous in Austin. In the case of phones over-using location-based apps, the Mophie actually restored battery life to normal. After a number of tips about this miraculous Juice Pack, I ended up trying one out, and feel about it the same way I do about the iPhone: Owning a Mophie at SXSW is like being part of a different species.
Sure strapping on any case to the sleek iPhone sort of feels like you’re degrading from its beauty or putting a diaper or a condom on it or whatever. But it’s totally worth it (and $100) to be part of a species that isn’t addicted to wall outlets or pleading with waiters to let them charge their phones. A species that doesn’t wear phone chargers in its hair. It’s so revolutionary Apple should buy it.
“The first company—whether it’s an incumbent phone maker or Ph.D.-laden start-up in a garage—that figures out how to solve the smartphone battery problem will see enormous gains,” Farhad Manjoo wrote today on PandoDaily. Ladies and gentlemen, the Mophie.