The Ultimate Guide to Solving iOS Battery Drain

Updated April 7, 2014: added Step 8 to the list.

Added Korean Translation (provided by Yoon Jiman)
Added French Translation (provided by Guillaume Haben)
Added Chinese Translation (provided by Jamie Sa)
Added Spanish Translation (provided by Eduardo Gutierrez)
Added Russian Translation (provided by Vitaly Barilo)
Added Vietnamese Translation (provided by Lê Đình Bảo)


I worked on the Genius Bar for almost two years, and the most difficult issue to solve was short battery life. It was extremely difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why someone's battery was draining.

I made it my mission to discover the specific reasons for iOS battery drainage. This article is a product of my years of research and anecdotal evidence I gathered in the hundreds of Genius Bar appointments I took during my time as a Genius and iOS technician, as well as testing on my personal devices and the devices of my friends.

iOS 7.1 came out recently and brought with it a bevy of design tweaks and performance enhancements. However, some users are reporting poor battery life since the update, and many blogs are reporting it as fact.1

This is not one of those "Turn off every useful feature of iOS" posts that grinds my gears. My goal is to deliver practical steps to truly solve your iOS battery woes.

One quick thing before we start — 99.9% of the time it is not actually iOS that is causing your battery to drain quickly. I guarantee you that if you erased your phone and there were no apps or email on it, it would last for ages. But, no one uses their device like that, nor should they. Hopefully with these steps you will be living in iOS battery bliss while still using all the apps and features you love.

But first, we need to test and see if you even have a problem to begin with.

How to Test Your iOS Battery Drain

There is a quick and easy battery life test built into your device, if you do a little bit of math — the Usage and Standby times2. Head on over to Settings > General > Usage and check out your times.

Your Usage time is how long you have actually used your device, and the Standby time is how long your device has been dormant in-between the times you've used it plus your Usage time. A better name for Standby time would be "Total Time since unplugged." The key to look for is that your Usage time should be significantly lower than your Standby time, unless you have been using your device every single second you've had it unplugged. If this is not the case and your Usage time is exactly equal to your Standby time, you have a severe problem. The bottom line is that your Usage time should be accurate to how much you've used it since you took it off the charger.

So here's the test: write down your usage and standby time, press the sleep/wake button (or lock button, as some call it) to put the device to sleep, and set the device down for five minutes. When you come back, take note of the change in time. If your device is sleeping properly, then the Standby time should have increased by five minutes and your Usage time by <1 minute 3. If your Usage time rises by more than one minute, you have a drain problem. Something is keeping your device from sleeping properly, significantly shortening the time it will last.

If you do not have a battery drain issue, then great! You don't even need the steps listed in this article. But if you or someone you know is constantly complaining about how short their battery lasts, read onward or send this post to them.

Here are the main causes of iOS battery drain I've found, and how to resolve them.

Step 1: Disable Location and Background App Refresh for Facebook

This first step may seem extremely specific, but that's because it is extremely common and extremely effective. It has also been well tested and confirmed on many devices.

I just got the iPhone 5s about two weeks ago, and thought my battery was draining a little too quickly. Being the nerd that I am, I decided to run the app Instruments from Xcode, Apple's developer tool, in order to see what the problem was. Basically, Instruments acts as an Activity Monitor for your iPhone, allowing developers (or nerds like me) to see every process currently running and how much memory and processing power each app is using in real-time.

During this testing, Facebook kept jumping up on the process list even though I wasn't using it. So I tried disabling Location Services 4 and Background App Refresh 5 for Facebook, and you'll never guess what happened: my battery percentage increased. It jumped from 12% to 17%. Crazy. I've never seen that happen before on an iPhone. The iPod touch exhibits this behavior, to my memory, although I haven't tested it in a while. For the iPhone, the battery percentage is usually pretty consistent.6

I have confirmed this behavior on multiple iPhones with the same result: percentage points actually increase after disabling these background functions of Facebook.

Bad, Facebook, bad.

Step 2: Disable Background App Refresh for Apps You Don't Care About

My recent post explains the benefits of Background App Refresh. BAR 7 is an awesome feature added in iOS 7, but you don't necessarily need it running for every app that supports it. Disable Background App Refresh for Facebook or other apps you don't absolutely need to stay up-to-date all the time.

If there are apps you check regularly, and you trust the quality of the app and developer, then enable Background App Refresh with confidence and enjoy your apps being updated intelligently so they're ready for your enjoyment at a moment's notice. Background App Refresh is great if you need it, but you really don't need it for every single app on your iOS device.

Step 3: Stop Quitting Your Apps in Multitasking

iOS 7 made it super fun to close your apps: all you have to do is double-click the home button and swipe up on the app preview to blast it into a digital black hole.

What most people tell you is that closing your apps will save your battery life because it keeps the apps from running in the background.

Wrong.

Yes, it does shut down the app, but what you don't know is that you are actually making your battery life worse if you do this on a regular basis. Let me tell you why.

By closing the app, you take the app out of the phone's RAM 8. While you think this may be what you want to do, it's not. When you open that same app again the next time you need it, your device has to load it back into memory all over again. All of that loading and unloading puts more stress on your device than just leaving it alone. Plus, iOS closes apps automatically as it needs more memory, so you're doing something your device is already doing for you. You are meant to be the user of your device, not the janitor.

The truth is, those apps in your multitasking menu are not running in the background at all: iOS freezes them where you last left the app so that it's ready to go if you go back. Unless you have enabled Background App Refresh, your apps are not allowed to run in the background unless they are playing music, using location services, recording audio, or the sneakiest of them all: checking for incoming VOIP calls 9, like Skype. All of these exceptions, besides the latter, will put an icon next to your battery icon to alert you it is running in the background. 10

Step 4: Disable Push Email Temporarily

If steps 1 through 3 did not solve your problem, try disabling Push email temporarily to see if it helps 11. Push email allows your device to receive instant notifications every time you get an email. It is great if you need to know when every single email comes in, but does impact battery if configured incorrectly.

I've seen many devices where Push is the primary cause of battery drain, but I've also seen plenty of devices have great battery life with Push enabled. It is really specific to your email and server settings. Try changing the setting to Fetch every hour, thirty minutes, or fifteen minutes and see if the drain stops. If that doesn't help, turn it back on. You could also trying disabling Push on individual accounts if you have multiple. Just keep referring to the test at the beginning of the article to see if that resolved your issue.

Unbelievably often, especially with Exchange push email, it's as if the phone gets stuck in a loop checking for email constantly. When this happens, the phone will usually die within six hours of being off the charger, and the Standby and Usage times in Settings > General > Usage will be exactly the same. These times are not the same because the "firmware 12 is bad or corrupted", it's because push email is keeping the phone from sleeping properly.

Step 5: Disable Push Notifications for Apps That Annoy You

Does that annoying game your child downloaded keep sending you push notifications to keep buying more digital sheep for the virtual farm? If so, every time you get one of those notifications, your phone wakes from sleep for a few seconds to light up your screen and wait for your potential action upon each notification.

Push notifications do not cause excess battery drain by default, so please don't hear me say you need to turn them all off. However, every message wakes your device for 5 to 10 seconds, so it can add up. If you receive 50 notifications during the day and never act on them, that will add 4 to 8 minutes to your Usage time, meaning you now have that much less time to do things you actually want to do on your device. 13

Turn off those annoying Push notifications for apps you don't need notifications from. It might be a small difference, but it can add up.

Step 6: Turn Off Battery Percentage

That's right, you heard me.

Turn off that battery percentage meter and stop worrying about your battery drain. You can find this setting in Settings > General > Usage, right above where your battery times are listed.

One thing I found in my Genius Bar experience is that people that are anxious about their iOS device battery life are constantly checking it to see the percentage and how much it has dropped from the last time they checked it. So if you check your device twice as much, simply to check on the battery life, you are essentially halving the time your device will last.

Stop freaking out and enjoy your life. There are more important things to worry about than your device's battery life. The control freak inside you might freak out the first few days you do this, but you'll get used to it. 14

Step 7: Go to an Apple Retail Store

Update: I was informed after posting this that the Apple battery test only runs on the iPhone 5 and up.

I know, you hate making a Genius Bar appointment because it's loud and crazy in there, but I have a good reason to add this to the list.

According to my sources, Apple has rolled out a new 'Extended Battery Life Test' for all iOS technicians that allows them to see a detailed report of battery usage on your device. It takes only a few minutes to run and, from what I've heard, is comprehensive. I have not had a chance to see this test for myself, but my friends tell me it rocks.

The other rare possibility is that your physical battery is defective, and the technicians can replace it for free if your iOS device is under warranty, or very cheaply if it's not.

Step 8: Enable Airplane Mode in Areas of Poor Cellular Service

One major reason your battery could be draining too quickly is poor cellular service. When the iPhone detects that you are in a place of low signal, it will increase the power to the antenna in order to stay connected enough to receive calls (primarily) and maintain a data connection.

This will destroy your battery life if you are constantly in a location with 1 bar or no service at all. The unfortunate thing is that this can happen in more places than you expect — any building with metal studs in the walls, aluminum buildings, buildings with dense concrete walls, heavily populated city areas, and downtown areas with with lots of tall buildings.

Often times you may get a strong signal on the top floor of a building, but simply moving to a lower floor, such as the basement, will immediately cause your iPhone to hang on to signal for dear life at the expense of your battery. Note that this severe drain will happen even if you have a strong Wi-Fi connection, because your phone still needs the cellular connection for calls and SMS messages (the green-colored texts in the Messages app).

If you are in an area with poor cell coverage, and you still need to receive calls, I've got bad news — there is really nothing you can do. But if your service is so poor that you can't receive calls anyway, I recommend turning on Airplane mode by swiping up from the bottom of your device to access Control Center and tapping the Airplane icon.

One thing you may not know about Airplane mode: you can actually turn Wi-fi back on after enabling Airplane mode. Just tap the Wi-Fi button in Control Center (the icon directly to the right of the Airplane). This is perfect for places, like an airplane, where you have zero cellular coverage but a strong Wi-Fi signal.

If you have Wi-Fi and want to be really fancy, you can disable just the cellular data portion of your signal, e.g. EDGE, 3G, 4G, or LTE. Most people don't know that your phone is actually receiving two signals simultaneously: one for calls and SMS, and one for data.

The signal strength meter on the iPhone only shows the signal strength for the non-data connection, which means theoretically your iPhone could show 2-3 bars (or dots on iOS7) for your 1x connection but in reality you could be getting 1 bar of LTE/4G/3G connection, causing the phone to go into heavy search mode. To disable just the Data connection of your iPhone, head over to Settings > Cellular Data and switch Cellular Data off. Again, doing this will allow you to receive phone calls (if you still have a signal) while maintaining a data connection through Wi-Fi.

Conclusion

I guarantee you that if you follow these steps, you will be getting the best battery life possible out of your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.

If your device is still not lasting you a full day, and you can't stomach heading into one of the stainless steel noise chambers I lovingly refer to as your nearest Apple Retail Store, don't worry. There is still hope for you.

The reason your device isn't lasting all day might simply be because you are a heavy user, and your iOS device is acting completely normal under the grueling pace with which you use it. That is not a fault of the device, or you, for that matter. You are simply pushing it beyond it's capabilities. My advice for you is to buy a car charger, a second charger for travel/work, or a battery case to extend your battery life 15.

I hope this article empowers you to stop stressing about your battery life, and frees you up to enjoy the great device in your hands. There are more important things in life that deserve our attention, so the more we minimize the trivial stressors, like bad battery life, the more time we can spend on people and problems that really matter.

Footnotes

  1. Users will report poor battery life after every iOS update. Always. For eternity. This is not newsworthy.
  2. This only works on the iPhone and iPod touch. Sorry iPad users, for some reason these times are not viewable. **Update** Reader Timothy Fultz emailed in to let me know that iPads on iOS 7 do have these Standby and Usage times. Thanks Timothy!
  3. Sometimes the Usage time will go up by one minute, but really it was only a few seconds. The minute was close to changing, and those few seconds pushed it over the edge to the next minute.
  4. Settings - Privacy - Location Services
  5. Settings - General - Background App Refresh
  6. Note about battery percentage: it is an estimate of how long your device will last looking at the amount of charge left in the physical battery and comparing that to the current processes draining that bank of electrical charge.

    A good thing to compare the way iOS calculates battery percentage is ETA (estimated time of arrival) in modern GPS and navigation. Most devices look at the miles left to travel and compare that to the speed limits of all of the roads you are going to travel on your current route. If you drive faster than the speed limit, you will get there faster than the estimated time, so it's not 100% accurate.

    Battery percentage estimates work the same way, looking at the amount of juice left (miles) versus how fast you're draining it (miles per hour). That explains why disabling Facebook made the percentage go up, much like how if you stop on a road trip, your ETA climbs significantly.

  7. short for Background App Refresh, not the awesome Browning Automatic Rifle used in World War II and by Steve McQueen in the final scene of "The Sand Pebbles".
  8. Temporary, short-term memory.
  9. Internet phone calls.
  10. Apps that can make or receive calls, like Skype, Viber, Tango, Whatsapp, and Facebook are able to check for incoming calls without notifying you. I believe these types of apps sometimes abuse this exception and could have possibly influenced Apple to add Background App Refresh as the sanctioned method for this type of behavior.

    I think this is why disabling Facebook's background services is so influential on battery life: I speculate they are abusing the fact that they have VOIP call features to run in the background more than they should. It would provide a better experience for people using Facebook, sure, but people would never know Facebook was the cause of their battery life issues, and would definitely blame the device or iOS itself.

  11. Settings - Mail, Contacts, and Calendars - Fetch New Data
  12. The foundational software connecting hardware and software.
  13. That number may seem small, but over a year (x365) that number turns into 1,460 minutes (about a day) to 2,960 minutes (about two days) less battery life.
  14. I really wish Apple had a "No battery percentage meter except under 20%" setting, so bad. That would be my ideal configuration.
  15. Or buy a second iPhone as your night phone ;)