Does My Phone Dream?

There has to be some logical explanation for why the battery mysteriously drains.

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By Cary Chin
Starting with my commentary on the Tesla Model S last month (poor standby time before software update), I was thinking about how common a problem standby power is these days. Nearly all of our recently introduced smartphones have had similar problems (iPhone 5, Nexus 4, Galaxy S4, Lumia 900) running on virtually all operating systems (iOS 6.x, Android 4.2.x, Windows Phone 8). All of these energy consumption issues, even when the device is inactive, and presumably asleep. It really makes you think about the question, “Does my phone dream?”

Of course, from a technology standpoint, we can explain (or so we’d like to believe) most of the causes of phantom phone drain—information being pushed to the device, background maintenance tasks, poor communications signal strength, inefficient software design, poor HW/SW interaction and even battery/charging issues can contribute. While all of these are extraordinarily complicated in their interactions, they are theoretically tractable, and I’m confident we’re on a path toward understanding and improving the problems. However, there is another way to think about it…

In ancient Egypt and Greece, dreams were thought to be prophetic or even divine; dreams were interpreted by priests, and dream images needed to be decoded into common language. Throughout Asia and Europe for hundreds of years, philosophers have contemplated the connection between the dream state and the conscious state, including how you know which one you’re in. (There’s no better example than trying to figure out what really happened in the movie “Inception!”) More recently, Freud, Jung and others have created theories about the sources of dreams and their interpretations. Today, many researchers agree that while interpreting dreams can be interesting and may have some reflection into our conscious and unconscious minds, there’s little harm in NOT interpreting them, either.

That’s not true for our smartphones, though. While the energy required for firing synapses, chemical and electrical changes, and even tossing and turning during our dreams are negligible for us, the energy cost of dreaming for our smartphones while they are asleep can be substantial. In fact, from the smartphone’s perspective, receiving data and tomorrow’s schedule from “the cloud” does seem eerily divine and prophetic, doesn’t it?

—Cary Chin is director of marketing for low-power solutions at Synopsys.