Environmental labeling for Mobile Apps

James Parton brought up an interesting idea around consumer labeling of mobile apps.  Its missing from the mobile eco-system.  For most home appliances there is Energy Star labeling.  Energy Star was first created as a United States government program during the early 1990s, later Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan and the European Union adopted the program. Devices carrying the Energy Star logo, such as computer products and peripherals, kitchen appliances, buildings and other products, generally use 20%-30% less energy than required by federal standards.  There has been some controversy over now the compliance is determined, e.g. fridges tested with the ice maker off and computers tested in low-power modes; transparency and regulation are important.

In the mobile world what sucks the battery life, uses energy, is usage of the network.  There is a very interesting study on the energy consumption of mobile network usage described in this paper Energy Consumption in Mobile Phones: A Measurement Study and Implications for Network Applications, which shows the relative efficiencies of 3G and WiFi, and describes an algorithm with pre-fetch to minimize overall energy consumption on the device.

Given there’s now 4.6B phone subscriptions in the world and that’s expected to grow to at least 8B subscriptions by 2020.  The telecommunication industry accounts for about 250 million tons CO2 or approximately 0.8% of global emissions.  It may not be as significant as car emissions, but its still in the top 20 of polluting industries; hence action is required to help all of us understand the impact of our decisions.

There are three levels for which the labeling could be applied: the operator, the device and the application.  For the operator, the local regulator needs to perform an audit and provide clear labeling on the relative performance of the operators.  Devices also need labeling, similar to the MPG (miles per gallon) rating we see on cars.  And then there’s the apps; this gets much more complex, as discussed in James’ presentation, as there’s the resources on the device and the resources of the network.  As described in the Energy Consumption in Mobile Phones report there are smart things we can do on the phones to minimize the energy consumption for some apps (as well as potentially improve customer experience in response times).  But its time to move from nice marketing and shareholder statements about green, and finally empower the customer to make informed decisions on their mobile choices.