What the Original iPhone Teaches About a 4G-Equipped iPhone 

When Steve Jobs unveiled the original iPhone in 2007, it blew every other phone out of the water.

However, some complained that the device lacked 3G connectivity, leaving EDGE and Wi-Fi as the only two options for data connections.

Apple executives said that the power required to use 3G didn’t make the technology worth it. Here’s Steve Jobs, speaking at the O2 iPhone release:

The 3G chipsets that are available to semiconductors work reasonably well except for power. They are real power hogs. So as you know, the handset battery life used to be 5–6 hours for GSM, but when we got to 3G they got cut in half. Most 3G phones have battery lives of 2–3 hours (of talk time).

In 2008, Apple shipped the iPhone 3G. Here’s how the battery life stacked up[1] between the two models:

iPhone (original) iPhone 3G
(on Edge)
iPhone 3G
(on 3G)
Talk Time: 8 hours 10 hours 5 hours
Standby Time: 250 hours 300 hours 300 hours
Internet Use: 6 hours (not given) 5 hours
Video Playback: 7 hours 7 hours 7 hours
Audio Playback: 24 hours 24 hours 24 hours

It seems that Apple attempted to balance out 3G’s hit on battery life by improving 2G battery life, and including the option to disable 3G on demand.[^2] Even so, it’s clear that 3G did take a significant chunk of talk time away while in use.

Fast forward three years, and some people are clamoring for Apple to include 4G[^3] in the next iPhone (Heck, some wanted it with the release of the iPhone 4S this fall.), but I’m not convinced Apple is going to do so — for the exact same reason it held out on 3G connectivity.

Battery life is important.

In fact, I’d argue that great battery life is one of the features that continues to set Apple’s hardware apart. Here’s Shawn Blanc in his review of the Galaxy Nexus:

If you’re on a road trip and want to use the 4G LTE network to provide you with driving directions, your drive had better be shorter than 4 hours because even when plugged into a car charger, the battery will not last.

That’s just pathetic.

Apple doesn’t do pathetic; it would rather wait something out until the performance is right for an excellent customer experience.

I don’t have any problem with that.

A Brief Footnote Concerning a Possible Solution

I was discussing this the other evening with a friend of mine who has owned several Android phones over the years. He isn’t upgrading from his Motorola Droid X yet because of this battery issue.

A solution he suggested — and that I quite like — is smart 4G. Such a system would use 3G (or even EDGE) to pull data in the background, and only step up to 4G when downloading a large file or streaming video. That way, the user isn’t having to deal with battery issues all day, every day, but still gets the crazy speeds 4G can offer.

Still, I think this solution is probably too complex for Apple to want to include it in an iPhone, but it is an interesting compromise to think about.


  1. Stats via Mactracker.
    [^2]: An option that has since disappeared.
    [^3]: By 4G I mean real 4G, not the updated 3G (HSPA+) some carriers like to label as 4G. Read this for more information.  ↩