Why does the phone GPS consume so much battery power?
Why does the phone GPS consume so much battery power?

You may have noticed that your phone battery drains in minutes after you turn on location services. There are many theories as to why this happens. It could be that you haven't closed an app that tracks your location or that your phone is too busy looking for satellites and cell towers. Which one is it? Why does the battery drain faster when the smartphone uses GPS?

Here are the details of what happens when you enable location services. Your smartphone's GPS receiver, a small chip and antennae, is constantly listening to cell towers. This gives it an approximate estimate of your location at all times. The GPS receiver can only guess your location without Wi-Fi or cellular data. Harish Krishnaswamy, Columbia Engineering associate professor in electrical engineering, stated in an email interview that without Wi-Fi, it would be impossible to view maps and see your location. It's like turning on your map while you are in airplane mode. Your phone might be able to guess which state or city you are in, but not exactly where you are.

When you activate location services, your phone begins to listen for satellites. These satellites are those that have been placed in orbit around what is called a GPS constellation. Although the GPS chip inside your phone can't send out signals, it receives signals constantly to triangulate your precise position.

Your phone won't go into sleep mode if GPS is turned on. The GPS chip constantly listens for satellites and will turn on random search mode if it detects that you are under a roof or in another location blocking the signal.

Your smartphone's battery can be much more affected if your signal is weaker than when it's in strong signal. Similar to what you see, if you travel fast in a train or car, your signal strength will decrease and your battery drains faster. This is partly due to your GPS receiver searching through many satellites nearby.

Although GPS might be responsible for rapid battery drain, it is more likely that you are using a GPS-dependent application, which can cause a mix of high-power activities. Your screen will be on when you use a map app to get directions. Apps like Google Maps and Apple Maps can significantly drain your battery. They require the GPS chip, display and cellular data to download maps and traffic information. Similar to the above, if your phone is constantly looking at your Uber/Lyft app, and your driver moving along a map to your pickup spot, it can drain your battery power.

Contrary to popular belief, battery drain is not caused solely by GPS. There are several quick ways to make your phone last longer if you use these apps frequently and turn up the brightness.


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