I first mentioned the Apple iPhone power management issue and only relayed my thoughts that Apple is doing a really great thing by doing this, but communicated it poorly. Then I quickly went into some crazy thing about how batteries aren't gas tanks. And failed to talk about any ideas for change, or why this is misunderstood.
Let's take a look at a couple of quick ideas that could be used to communicate differently.
The messaging Apple offered was honest, true, and open ended enough to cause the media and people to freak out. Here's what they said:
Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices. Lithium-ion batteries become less capable of supplying peak current demands when in cold conditions, have a low battery charge or as they age over time, which can result in the device unexpectedly shutting down to protect its electronic components.
Last year we released a feature for iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE to smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down during these conditions. We’ve now extended that feature to iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2, and plan to add support for other products in the future.
They note that they are managing "overall performance" and the "life of their devices". Which are all good, right? Who doesn't want the best performance for the life of their device? Later they note that they've added a feature to "smooth out" peaks, and only when needed, to prevent the device from shutting down.
That's where I think everyone went crazy. That statement is just vague enough to cause panic and let everyone jump to conclusions. The've since followed up with a fairly thourough PR statement. The new PR statement seems almost aplogetic, as though it's trying to over simplify and explain to us, in basic terms, what's happening.
These power management features are really great and SHOULD HAVE been touted as a benefit of iOS. They should've marketed this from the get-go as a feature that keeps your iPhone running at peak performance, no matter what.
That goes directly Apple highlighting anything that admits fault of something they've created. It's not Apple's fault that batteries degrade, they just do. All batteries for all devices, always degrade. Acknowledging a power management feature to keep your iPhone at best performance also acknowledges that the battery in your iPhone is less than perfect. And that is what goes against the entire Apple headspace. They ignore the bad and highlight the good. Which is exactly what good marketing does.
This was a case of bad messaging in PR. The simple first message sent by Apple was just open enough for interpretation. Had they figured out a way to message this as a new feature, saving the day from the horrible truth that batteries still aren't great – that they had figured out a way to always make your iPhone the best it can be, we might have a different landscape to look at.
Are there things that could be done in the iOS interface to convey to the customer that their iPhone battery may be less than ideal?
The battery icon and percentage count is really a bad idea. Because batteries aren't like gas tanks, the icon is a gross misrepresentation of how your battery works and how your OS handles itself according to the availability and health of your battery.
How could we rethink icons for your phones health and battery life that aren't a 'fuel gauge' type level like we have today? When your battery goes from 94% to 46% in a few hours, leaving you wondering, 'what's going on?'. Well, what is going on? Let's talk about what is happening and how to convey that to our customers with assurance.
Notifications such as dialogs could be made available in the OS, similar to the 'Low Power Mode' one, to help you identify any issues with charging or battery supply and in a way that doesn't leave the customer thinking 'did I do something wrong?'.
The battery icon could have a ubiquitous red dot notifier highlighting you to messaging about your battery and, if needed, offer information on a replacement. Overall battery health needs to be conveyed with imagery and text. How do we do that?
Batteries may not improve beyond these issues at a pace faster than our adoption of them more and more in our daily lives. We'll need to find ways to bridge the gaps in understanding and communication as batteries are used in more of our regular-use items, like cars, to help reassure the customer that their device is A-OK.