International Travels: Notes on iOS Battery Management

Every time Apple ships a new phone or releases a new version of iOS the first thing most pundits check is battery life. And the news usually isn’t good, meaning that it’s about the same as it was in the previous version, or worse. During international travel, especially when one is on his own, a dead phone can be a very disconcerting thing. Apple’s battery challenges have created an entire market for external batteries to keep their kit going. I’ll comment on external batteries in a moment, but first...

I decided to buy a phone on this trip to the UK (my daughter is already in the UK so we needed a phone to stay connected). I selected a Nokia 106 running on the O2 network. I hadn’t used anything other than a “smart” phone for years, since I gave up my 6310i Nokia international phone probably over 15 years ago. The Nokia 106 reminded me that batteries can last for a long time when battery life is the primary design imperative. This little “candy bar” phone claims 35 days of battery life. I didn’t charge it during the entire 10 day trip. Many iPhone users, given how much the iPhone has driven mobile adoption, have never owned a phone that didn’t need to be charged daily.

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The international travel experience is very different than the one in the country in which your device is registered. When I visit New York, Washington, D.C., or any other city in the United State, my iPhone runs dry too quickly. The device is running full tilt, with location services, e-mail retrieval, downloading of app updates, communicating with Bluetooth devices, and whatever else I have going on. International travel is very different.

When you go international, the first thing you want to do, before you put your device in airplane mode, is turn off domestic cellular data services. That way when you land, you won’t accidently connect to a roaming data service. Even a little data can be expensive. When you do land, don’t turn off airplane mode, but rather selectively turn on the services you will actually use. I travel with an iPhone and an iPad because of the iPad’s superior battery life; and when I don’t employ my phone as a phone, I tend to leave the iPhone off and use the iPad to seek out WiFi for checking in on FourSquare or posting to Facebook.

Since the iPhone has a better camera than the iPad Air, and a flash, I did use if for pictures. When doing so, I left all the wireless services off. When I found WiFi on the iPad, I would turn on the iPhone so it could synchronize to iCloud, and then turn off the WiFi when I wandered beyond the signal.

Did I take external batteries on the trip to the UK? I did, three of them..and frankly I did not use any of them on an iOS device. My Kindle Fire went down after sitting in a hotel safe for a couple of days with WiFi enabled, so I used a battery to jump start it, but beyond that, nothing. The iPad, with Bluetooth and cellular disabled, never ventured below 60 percent battery even after 14-hour days and occasional connections to WiFi.

You can’t configure an iPhone to match the battery in phone like the Nokia 106, but you can keep it running much longer if you follow a few simple procedures:

International Battery Tip Summary

  • Turn off all cellular data services before going to airplane mode.
  • Keep your device on airplane mode to avoid connecting to any data or other cellular service.
  • Only turn on selected services when required (for instance, when you know you have WiFi access).
  • If you have an iPad, use it to search for services rather than an iPhone (the iPad has much better battery life).
  • Turn off WiFi services when you move beyond a WiFi signal or don’t need to use WiFi.
  • Fully charge your iOS devices when you return to your room.

Note that if you are using an unlocked phone, and you install a SIM for the country you are visiting and then use your device just like you do at home, the battery life conditions will be similar to normal use and you will likely need an external battery on long days.

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Daniel W. Rasmus is the Founder and Principal Analyst at Serious Insights. Rasmus is the author of Listening to the Future and Management by Design. Rasmus teaches at Bellevue College where he teaches Social Media and Personal Branding. He is also the Chief Knowledge Officer with the Virtual World Society.