updated 09:00 pm EDT, Thu May 2, 2013
Says always-on Location Services didn't show issues during testing
Google has issued a written denial of claims that its new-to-iOS "Google Now" feature, which relies heavily on Location Services, is causing unusual battery drains for iPhone users. The company recently added the feature -- which attempts to predict what the user will ask based on location, direction and other factors and presents some useful information without user input -- to its Google search app already available for iOS devices. In the statement, Google says both that reports of battery drain are "incorrect" but then asks for users to contact them if they are having a battery problem.
While the device now uses Location Services and other data constantly while the app is in use in order to better predict what information the user might want, Google claims that it saw no "significant" battery issues in the month or so that it tested the feature prior to releasing it. The advertising giant says that the Google Now feature is "built very differently" than other apps that use Location Services, and that it determines location using triangulation of cell towers and Wi-Fi hotspots rather than actual GPS, which should result in much lower battery life than using a dedicated GPS application such as Google Maps.
The company compares its technique to that of navigation apps that require much more precise location data, and notes that such apps "actually do drain the phone's battery because they [have to] ... run your GPS all the time to keep you from missing your turn." While dismissing the claims by users outright, it ends the press statement on a more conciliatory note, encouraging users to "try [Google Now] for a few days" and that if users are still seeing an issue not attributable to other factors, "please do tell us" by tapping the feedback button in the app settings. "We take user feedback very seriously," Google concludes.
Based on quick testing with both Android and jailbroken iPhone models, the company should soon be getting an earful. Battery-drain apps that monitor which applications are using the battery the most clearly show -- on both platforms -- that Google Now services will (in short spurts) use large amounts of battery capacity to accomplish what it aims to do; an example featured by Google showed a user driving towards the airport, and Google Now coordinating the location data with calendar data to pull up the latest on-time report of the flight's departure without input.
Google claims that in addition to not actually using the GPS in iOS devices that have it, it also automatically pauses location updates if it detects that the battery is low, and that the app and its services "go to sleep" unless the device moves "a long distance," which isn't defined. The service can be tailored to offer sports scores, news headlines, local real estate data and other services -- for which it needs access to Location Services, a user's GMail account, and any synched calendar information.
Android users have said that the app can sometimes burn up to 75 percent of the battery during a day of routine use, while iOS users have seen "off the scale" battery usage in brief periods while the app is running. Turning off the "location reporting" feature, which disables some but not all of Google Now's predictive coordination, seems to alleviate much of the issue. Uninstalling the app (or, in the case of the iOS version, simply turning off the Now feature in the app's settings) also fixes the problem, which is why users are quick to blame Google's testing.