March 3, 2010 spout

Please don’t run apps in the background on my WP7 phone!

When I was but a wee lad, I learned that when it came to my computer, I was often going to be waiting on something, whether it was the CPU, the IO or the memory. Now that I’m all grown up and spending a great deal of time on handheld mobile devices, I’ve discovered a whole new thing I’m waiting on: charging the battery.

In the bad old days of DOS, I spent a disturbing amount of time working on my autoexec.bat and config.sys files to optimize the loading of drivers and TSRs (DOS programs that run in the background for you whippersnappers). Now, instead of optimizing for memory usage on my PC,  I spend my time optimizing for power consumption on my phone, e.g. turning off 3G and Bluetooth when I don’t need them, turning down the polling frequency on my SMTP mail accounts and spreading power adapters everywhere in my world where I sit for more than 5 minutes. The single most important feature on my phone is that’s it’s on and the way power is managed on my iPhone means that this is often not the case. Sometimes I pine for my Windows Mobile Dash for just that reason; it ran for days instead of hours.

And as bad as this power situation is, it would be even worse if my phone ran more than one app at a time. I don’t worry about random apps from the AppStore using too much memory or crashing; I worry about them eating my battery and killing my iPhone in the middle of a route to somewhere I’ve never been. By not allowing background apps to run, Apple is trying to do the right thing but (although my battery life still sucks). I don’t have personal experience with Google phones, but since they do allow background apps to run, I have to imagine battery life is an even bigger problem.

So, when I see people lobbying for background apps on the new Windows Phone 7 Series, all I can say is, you don’t want it. What you want is for work to go on in the background for you without the cost in power.

Oh, I want to listen to my MP3s or Pandora while I answer my email like everyone else, but I don’t want every financial/IM/email/social/sports app I download sucking down my battery life because it feels itself to be more important than everything else on my phone. I want those apps to notify me when something I care about happens but I don’t want the processing to discover such events to happen on my phone - I want the processing to happen in the cloud.

You may recall my piece about how important storage in the cloud is for moble devices. Let’s let somebody else scale and manage the storage so we can leverage it. In the same way, we want to leverage CPU and power in the cloud, saving local resources for cool graphics, twitch games and streaming my Pink” channel.

Of course, if we’re going to push the processing to the cloud, I’m going to need an efficient and easy way to write my WP7 apps to be notified so I can do the actual processing that needs to happen on the phone. And that all needs to happen while I’m navigating and playing my bad girls party mix.

I’m saving my WP7 phone battery for important things after all.