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Google Latitude: Will it Kill your Phone’s Battery?

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google-latitudeMaybe I’m just put off since I can’t play with Google Latitude like everyone else. The new location sharing service looks awesome to me, but it’s not yet supported on the iPhone. For now, I’m simply testing it in iGoogle on my laptops and I’ve shared my general location (shown) with a long-time jkOTR reader and my exact location with James.

While there’s a valid case to be made for how location sharing with Google (s GOOG) has privacy implications, I’m not that concerned. You can hide your location at any time, and you get to pick and choose which of your contacts can see where you are. Even better: you can define how much detail those chosen contacts get. They either get your city-level, general location or as close as Google can pinpoint you.

No, it’s not the opt-in privacy bit that bothers me. I’m wondering what it’s going to do to handset batteries.

Obviously, I can’t test any theories since I don’t have a supported handset. But I have to believe that any very active users will quickly see their battery life disappear. The app will be checking for and posting location updates far too often in this case.

It’s going to be fun to play with Google Maps and the new Latitude feature, but after leaving Maps running in the background for a few hours or so, I think folks will see my point. They’ll then offer their location only at certain times of the day instead of having Maps running in the background. If anyone is using the new feature and has real-world battery run data or impressions, you know where to find me.

In fairness to Google, their Help section addresses this issue… sorta:

“Google Latitude is designed to use minimal battery power so that you can continue automatically sharing your location in the background of your phone.

For example, Latitude will automatically decrease how often your location is updated when your phone’s battery is low or your location has not changed recently. Keep in mind that enabling WiFi or GPS connections on your device to acquire your location can drain your device’s battery more quickly than using Google Maps for mobile’s My Location feature.”

That could mean that the location updates are scheduled for intervals like five or ten minutes apart. Hard to say without details — and to be honest, I’d like the ability to configure how often updates occur. While it’s good to minimize the updates when the battery is low, it’s a little after the fact at that point, no? ;)

8 Responses to “Google Latitude: Will it Kill your Phone’s Battery?”

  1. You can use the WhereRYu app on the Blackberry which only turns on the GPS when people actually check your location, so it does not drain your battery like the Google Latitude

  2. William C Bonner

    I loaded the most recent google maps on my windows mobile phone, and then immediately tried out enabling the latitude function. I’ve not figured out a way to stop it again, once I’ve agreed to it. Now each time I exit google maps, it asks if I want to continue to share my location with latitude.

    I’ve not really spent much time investigating it, so disabling it may be obvious.

    I’m running a t-mobile dash with an upgraded 6.1 rom from xda. I’m generally concerned with battery usage, but also with ram usage, as I often have to go and kill apps to even bring up the camera.

  3. I have a Nokia E71, and have an energy ‘profiler’ app to track the average watts used, so I can do comparisons of power usage:

    .62W: backlight on, maps on/sharing, gps on
    .37W: backlight off, maps on/sharing, gps on
    .27W: backlight on, maps on/sharing, gps off
    .20W: backlight on, maps off (phone idle)
    .07W: backlight on, maps off (phone idle)

    Granted, these numbers have the ‘profiler’ app running all the time, so that takes CPU/power, so ‘true’ numbers above should be lower when running in the background without the ‘profiler’ app running.

  4. Note that Google’s comment says they’re using “My Location”, which is cell-tower triangulation. As far as I know, there’s minimal additional battery drain because it’s using data the phone already has based on signal strength. There is some battery drain as it transmits those numbers to Google to get a location. But if you don’t move, there would be no data to send to Google.

    I see a few coincidences, though. For Google to support this on the iPhone, they’ll need 2 things…

    1) they’ll need the ability to run background apps on the iPhone – which happens to be the latest and greatest rumour circulating around
    2) they’ll also need a way to access the iPhone’s non-GPS/non-wifi location data (i.e. the cell-tower triangulation), which to my knowledge would require a separate (new) API call (I understand the iPhone has it now, but it’s part of the general Location Services)

    Given how Apple & Google have allowed the use of unsupported features on the iPhone before, your guess is as good as mine.

    (Note – I’ve never looked at the iPhone SDK so anyone who has more first-person info, feel free to correct me)

  5. bluemonq

    @Allison: Guess this is off-topic, but this is why I think it’s great when Spybot S&D marks (some) 3rd party cookies as “issues”. It gets people’s attention, and my suggestion to have the browser delete all cookies (perhaps helping them to set up a whitelist for favorite sites if they like) is usually well received.

  6. I am one of the paranoids (formerly working in security will do that do you). I don’t believe Google has any intention of prioritizing privacy as an option in the longer term. They, like many others, are working to erode people’s sensitivities with regard to privacy. They know its a long term process, but they’re willing to drop an occasional carrot like this every now and then to further move the line without arousing the masses. It’s a little at a time, and always starts innocently.

    Remember cookies? Everyone used to get upset about 3rd party tracking cookies, but the industry kept right on plugging away until we finally just accepted them. Now, most Internet users have no idea how much information these companies gather with regards to your behavior. Or the scope of the databases being created by marketing firms. Sure, most of what’s been done so far is relatively harmless (if just creepy). But with that line forever moving, will we accidentally cross over it, and find it impossible to return?

    That’s why I dig in my heels with stuff like this. Yeah, it’s kinda cool, but the slope gets more slippery every day.

  7. I tried for hours to make TomTom (gps) Fire Eagle software work with my cell phone to post my location. but the data sharing in my phone was taken out by cell phone oem. It did work on my wife’s cheap flip phone. Any way I installed this on WM6 blackjack. so far works (in my office). will try driving around tonight. note i have no GPS in phone. so it just gets cell proximity within a few blocks. still very cool. and for free even better.