App Smart: With smartphones so important after the electricity failed, conserving battery power was vital during a storm.
Maybe the best thing that could be said about a widespread electrical failure is that it brings you closer to your smartphone.
In my suburban Connecticut neighborhood as well as other areas along the East Coast rendered powerless by Hurricane Irene, iPhones, Android phones and tablets were often the only means of connecting to the world beyond.
I got electricity back only last Sunday, a week after the storm. But Irene was a great teacher. I developed a number of power-saving strategies that I can use in other situations. And because battery power was so scarce, I was forced to identify the apps I truly needed, versus the ones that merely took up space on my devices.
The apps I relied on were Facebook, Gmail, SkyGrid and the weather-related apps, Weather+, MyWeather and the Weather Channel. (All are free on Apple and Android. Weather+ is Apple-only).
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Games were more critical than I would have thought. They kept my children occupied at the height of their cabin fever, and the newest Apple hit, Jetpack Joyride ($1), quickly earned a place as the household favorite.
As Irene approached, SkyGrid, a customized news feeder, and the weather apps provided updates. People have for years been building home pages on Yahoo, Google and other websites with headlines from their favorite niche sites. SkyGrid reproduces that experience in a mobile format. The app’s easy-to-use design and wide range of available feeds make it easier to build a customized page on your device than on a desktop computer.
When the app opens, the headlines load quickly and offer enough information for you to make a fast read-or-skip decision.
I appreciated that speed throughout the power failure, but also on the eve of the storm. Once all my back-up batteries were plugged in and the rest of the family was asleep in the one room that was outside the drop zone of falling trees, I opened SkyGrid for a final check of the news.
As the early reports of devastation in the mid-Atlantic states scrolled onto the screen, I knew our odd sleeping arrangement wasn’t paranoia.
The weather apps helped too, of course. I typically rely on MyWeather Mobile for forecasts and maps because it loads quickly and packs information into a more accessible format than the others on the market. But as the storm neared, I discovered that the Weather Channel offered more frequently updated maps, so I used that instead.
At 2:50 a.m. Sunday, when the power failed in my neighborhood, our smartphone and tablet operations focused almost entirely on battery preservation. (We would regain electricity at around 8 p.m. the following Sunday.)
I reduced the brightness of every screen to its bare minimum, and, unless we were trying to call or text someone or use an Internet-related app, I put the phone into airplane mode. That prevented the phone from expending energy trying to maintain a cell signal.
I also closed music apps on the iPhone so they didn’t draw even a tiny amount of power by running in the background. For Android, the process of shutting off your active apps is more complicated but more informative. Within the Settings section of some phones, check Battery Manager and Applications.
Before the storm hit, I turned on my Droid2 and, in Battery Manager, I saw that the Android System was responsible for 22 percent of my battery consumption, while the “Android OS” was responsible for 6 percent.
I then went to Applications, and from there looked up Running Services. I found a long list of apps I wasn’t using, as well as an option to close them.
I shut down Skype, eBay and others, and clicked back to Battery Manager to find the Android System down to 17 percent of my battery usage and Android OS down to 3 percent. Small differences, sure, but every minute counted.
During the power failure I relied on quick checks of SkyGrid for major news and Facebook for local news.
I know a few people who steadfastly refuse to “give into the pressure to join Facebook,” as they put it. But I am sure I knew well before them where my family could find hot showers and live electrical outlets. And the social connections provided a morale boost during the week.
Weather+ became my favored meteorological service. Unlike the more ambitious Weather Channel and MyWeather Mobile apps, Weather+ offers only a single-page view of the critical weather metrics for your area. Quick on, quick off, save the battery. That battery life was critical when our children were in the throes of video game detox.
Yes, it resulted in an automobile joyride for the parents, because the car charger was often the only way to power up, but thanks to Facebook, we could at least point the car in the direction of a shower.