Study Finds Ad-Supported Apps Drain Batteries Faster

In the ideal media world, ad-supported products are able to compete with paid rivals because people are willing to put up with a little inconvenience in return for getting something for free -- as long as the products are otherwise functionally equivalent. But if the ad-supported version actually ends up limiting your ability to consume other kinds of content, or even just use of the device itself -- well, that could be a problem.

Specifically, that could be a problem for free, ad-supported mobile apps. A new study by researchers at USC, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and Queen’s University in Canada says that free, ad-supported apps use more energy than paid apps, mostly because of the need to constantly serve and update ads. In fact, apps with ads use 16% more energy than apps without ads, on average, and in some cases use up to 33% more.

As a result, smartphones with ad-supported apps suffer from diminished battery life, typically reduced from 2.5 hours to 2.1 hours, again on average, or as little as 1.7 hours in extreme cases.

And these aren’t the only drawbacks. Ad-supported apps are particularly taxing on the smartphone’s Central Processing Unit, or CPU, using around 48% more of the CPU’s processing capacity, including 22% more of its memory and 56% more of its processing time, which causes the device to run slower.

These apps also use 79% more (or even twice that figure, in some cases) network data. And these associated downloads are racking up data charges, incurring a cost of around 1.7 cents every time the app is activated.

I could actually see this hurting demand for ad-supported mobile apps. While people will put up with a surprising amount of annoyance to get the content they want, they’re less likely to do so if it decreases the overall utility of the device. Just imagine watching a TV show that caused your TV to shut off after you’re done watching it.

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