BBC's Cellan-Jones coughs to 3G app battery bug

The BBC's technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones has admitted that the Android app for mapping UK 3G coverage he unveiled earlier this week has a rather major flaw: it drains smartphone batteries.

Cellan-Jones launched the app, which has been developed by telecommunications specialist Epitriro, earlier this month with the aim of using Android handsets to generate a street-level map of the UK's 3G and 2G mobile broadband coverage.

The app is simple enough: running in the background - which, Cellan-Jones has explained, is the prime motivation for launching on Android and not Apple's iOS - it monitors the handset's current location and network connectivity status and reports back to a central server.

Unfortunately, the app has a major flaw. As we reported in our original coverage of the matter, the app keeps the GPS receiver and mobile data connection live and active at all times, no matter what the user is doing. This causes a major battery drain, with users reporting on Twitter that their Android handsets were unusable after just three hours running the app.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the app runs in the background, with no way to stop it short of uninstalling it from the device. Users who don't will find themselves with a dead smartphone in short order.

Cellan-Jones has now admitted that there's a problem, and confirmed that a fix will be coming soon. "I too had this experience on the phone I'm using for the survey," Cellan-Jones confirms in a post on his BBC blog discussing the battery drain issue. "What you can do is switch off GPS, which should sort the problem completely, though it will mean we will get less detailed location data."

That 'fix' will mean that GPS information is unavailable for all other apps, too, and does nothing to address the battery-draining issue of a 2G or 3G data connection being kept live even when the device is connected to a Wi-Fi network.

"Epitiro, which makes the app, has issued an update which makes it less heavy on the battery," Cellan-Jones claims. "Epitiro is promising another update next week which will decrease the level of testing, and save more power even if you leave GPS switched on."

Thus far, the app has been downloaded by 36,000 people, a figure that Cellan-Jones is using to indicate the number of people participating in the experiment. Many, however, have uninstalled the app once the level of battery drain was first noticed, with some jumping ship to rival - and larger-scale - mobile mapping project OpenSignalMaps, which provides an app that doesn't suffer from the same level of excessive power draw.

While more than 150 five-star reviews of the app have been posted to its Android Market page, many are negative. "Ate 10 per cent of my battery for 10 mins of running in the background," one reviewer notes, "and the process restarts after it's killed." Another user agrees: "I want to be part of the survey but not if it drains the battery like this. Uses GPS which I've now turned off. Used up 50 per cent battery in 2 hours."

Even the recent update Cellan-Jones mentions which was specifically designed to address the battery issue hasn't helped. "Installed the new version. Great idea so giving it a second chance," a user writes. "Sorry, uninstalling. Every time I look my GPS is active!?"

Thus far, Cellan-Jones has not responded to our query of how many of the 36,000 downloaders are actively using the app, a figure which should be easy to provide from the number currently reporting back to Epitiro's central server.