Is Battery Life Or User Interface More Important?

Earlier this week, I was posed the question, ‘On a mobile device, what’s more important, battery life or user interface?‘ Of course, the first answer is both, but on a more serious note, it’s a really interesting question.

Prior to my experience with the BlackBerry Bold 9700, I would have said user interface, hands down. It has to be easy/intuitive to use any mobile device, and especially in the post-iPhone world, UI is everything. However, UI means nothing if your device doesn’t stay powered on long enough for you to enjoy it. Case in point, the Nokia N97 or my HTC Eris. Both have great user interfaces (in my opinion), but with both of them, I find myself constantly having to make a decision – whether the planned task is going to hose my battery too bad. Do I really need to use the GPS to drive to work, or is it going to tax my battery too much to be worth it? How long can I use my phone with Last.FM for music in the car without leaving me with a dead battery the rest of the day? Questions like that really happen in my daily life.

With the BlackBerry Bold 9700, I had my first all-day battery experience on a mobile device. Despite my best efforts, I was completely unable to kill the battery on that phone in a single day. Thus, I was able to use any and all parts of the phone with no concern as to what state it would leave my battery in. Personally, I found the BlackBerry user interface completely lacking – ugly icons, little to no transition effects, boring old menu structure, limited interaction options, etc. However, I’m willing to deal with all that in order to get such great battery life.

One thing to consider, though, with the battery life, is whether there’s a threshold. For me, if I can get through 12 hours of continuous real-world use (email, Twitter, Facebook, SMS, streaming music, a bit of browsing, etc) without needing a charge, I’m golden. I don’t need a 3-day battery charge, as I sleep every night, and can plug my phone in then. So, once a device offers battery life equivalent to the Bold 9700, there’s really no reason to stress for additional battery life, and focus should then be redirected to user interface, if that makes sense?

What do you think? Is user interface really the end-all-be-all, the holy grail, as it seems to be thought of today, or is battery life still something that most mobile devices can strive to improve? What’s more important, if you had to pick one? Would you be willing to put up with a slightly lackluster user interface in exchange for seemingly endless battery life, or would you rather charge all day but have a gorgeous user interface?

Published by rcadden

Just a dude with a phone.

4 thoughts on “Is Battery Life Or User Interface More Important?

  1. Battery life is probably the most important. You can come back to developing a better UI/UX after that if the bad UI/UX that you have is workable. RIM is in an excellent position here, and at the same time, they might end up like Palm where the system is great for battery life until you add too many *modern* features to the puzzle. Its always going to be a juggle in that respect.I feel you about the N97, somedays there's more of a decision process than others that's for sure.

  2. Apart from both (!) I tend to agree. Of course different users may have highly different power footprints. Perhaps the most easily forgotten is that around radios.If I'm in a strong signal area the battery can last for ages — move to a marginal area and battery life is significantly worse as the phone is more regularly scanning for other cells & pumping up it's power. Then if I move to wifi I may get better coverage than on a 3G data connectionA challenge to phone makers is to optimise power usage based on balancing the above with users expectations… and without burdening them wuth unrealistic config interfaces.Take for example email. I may want to have it fairly up to date, but maybe am ok with up to an hour old. If so the phone may do better to skip on the 3g data and hang around a bit waiting for wifi, but if that never comes it better grab the 3gApps are also very variable in their impact on power. Perhaps apple “certify” this but on most platforms they don't. So it can be difficult to figure out what's going on. Multiple alwys on data connections especially are badAnyway bottom line – I'd go for battery life 65% ui 35% ..!

  3. yes, I also think it is a challenge to phone makers to optimise power usage based on balancing the above with users expectations and without burdening them wuth unrealistic config interfaces.

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