Google Now draining iPhone battery

Barry Collins
1 May 2013

Google Now was added to the Google Search app for iPhone and iPad earlier this week, and already appears to have infuriated many users with excessive battery drain.

Google Now provides a series of cards that deliver location-based data, such as how long it will take you to get home from your current location, local restaurant reviews, and how far you've walked this week. This obviously requires the app to make use of the iPhone's GPS chip, and users of the app may have noticed that the GPS notification icon is now almost permanently displayed in the status bar at the top of the home screen.

GPS is one of the more battery-intensive tasks on a phone. Anyone who's used a satnav app, such as TomTom, will attest how quickly the battery drains when the GPS is in constant use.

The impact on battery life is far from minimal if my experience, and that of many others, is anything to go by

Google Now's Location services are turned on by default. Indeed, if you delve into the Google Now settings, Google offers an explanation of how the Location Services work:

"Note: You may notice the Location Services icon in your status bar after you start using Google Now. It appears because Google Search sometimes reports your location even when you're not actively using the app. Google Now uses these reports to give you traffic alerts and other updates. Along with Location Services, Google Now uses Location Reporting to get precise location information. Since Location Reporting has been optimised to use GPS as infrequently as possible, there should be minimal impact on your battery life."

The impact on battery life is far from minimal, if my experience, and that of many others, is anything to go by. On a two-hour journey to work this morning, my iPhone 4S battery dropped from 100% to only 65% by the time I reached work, whereas normally it would have between 80% to 85% remaining. It's also much warmer than normal.

Users on the MacRumours forums are also reporting excessive drain.  "Just installed it and my iPhone 4 got nice and warm. The location services were on full time, even when I stopped the app! I had to delete it to get the GPS to stop."

The battery only appears to drain heavily when I'm on the move, likely because Google is using the Wi-Fi connection to determine the iPhone's location when I'm at home or in the office. We've asked Google for an explanation, but have yet to hear back.

It is possible to turn Location Reporting off  -- click the Google Now settings cog, tap Settings in the top left of the screen, select Privacy and slide Location Reporting to off -- and this does appear to stop the GPS icon appearing permanently in the status bar, while still allowing location-based services such as traffic updates to work as normal. I'll report back on whether this improves battery life in a day or two.

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