When I see the word "free" I'm always wondering what the catch is. Maybe this is it: Researchers at Purdue University have conducted a study in conjunction with Microsoft that showed in some cases up to 75% of an app's total energy consumption was spent on locating and powering up the app's third party advertising.
The team used a special energy profiling tool to measure energy consumption on six free apps — including Angry Birds and Facebook — on three different HTC smartphones. They looked at both Android and Windows mobile powered handsets; iPhone remains a mystery due to restrictions built into the iOS preventing a test.
An effect dubbed a "3G tail" was also reported. As the tests were carried out over 3G connections, the research team noted that in some cases apps left the connections open for up to 10 seconds even after downloading was complete. Again, those open connections are based on the device searching for the third party ad server.
If you are thinking 10 seconds doesn't amount to much, consider that in the Angry Birds test it accounted for 25% of the energy consumption. (Oh, the humanity!)
So what's the solution? We could always just plan to be like a good scout and "always be prepared" for the drain. We could just say no to playing free games willy nilly in airport lounges or updating your Facebook status in McDonalds. Or we could try and game the system by bringing our chargers along wherever we go.
Unfortunately, the problem is a little bit more serious in that draining the battery decreases the longevity of overall battery life.
The author of the report, Abhinay Pathak believes game developers need to take the energy consumption issue more seriously. After all, they are getting paid by the advertisers to serve up the ads and the analytics that go with them. In fact, the research team was able to show by restructuring source code on apps in the study they were able to reduce total energy consumption between 20 to 65%.
That is some serious wiggle room for the app developers to shape up! Until that day comes, all of us free app fans have been warned. Nothing in life is truly free. At least that's what my mom says.