Mar 20, 2012

Is it better to buy the pay version of smartphone apps instead of installing the free version?

I was glancing at news headlines and saw a piece that suggested the free versions of many apps were not so free after all - they used much more power because of the ads. I had never even thought of this before, but limited battery life is one of the constant battles, even with my Droid 4. Unfortunately, I read this around 4 a.m. this morning after my cat woke me up with her first hairball of the week (yuck), and now I can't find the article again. How much of a difference to battery life does the advertising on free apps make compared to the no-ad, paid versions?



I saw an article about this on BBC that discussed a Purdue University study of Android and Windows Mobile smartphone battery use.  Apparently up to 75% of a free apps battery consumption was devoted to powering advertisements.  One specific app they looked at was Angry Birds, where they found that only 20% of the total power use was from playing the game.  45% was used to find your location for use in targeting advertising.  One thing that was interesting to me was that apps used a 3G connection to download advertising and then left the connection open for up to 10 seconds after the task was complete.  That 10 second "3G tail" repeated over the time the game was played was responsible for about 25% of the total battery use of the app.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17431109


It's a choice you have to make.  Pay for an app and get better battery life, which is a big issue, particularly for many Android users, or get it free and pay for it through increased energy consumption.  Developers could probably minimize the excess battery use, but they really don't have much of an incentive to do so. 


I suspect it depends on the platform, the app and the number of ads (or times the ad is displayed. I think a good rule of thumb is to simply avoid the ad-supported versions and go with the for-pay version. That eliminates the ad issue entirely and will let you have more peace of mind in terms of power conservation on your mobile device.

It's not surprising that free really isn't free though, that's usually how it works. Nothing in life is every really free.
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