Apple (finally) admits what iPhone 4S owners already knew: There's a battery problem

Company attributes short battery life to bugs in latest mobile-device OS update

Ever since Apple's iPhone 4S started being activated last month, many new owners have complained about serious issues with the device's battery life.

The conversation naturally spilled onto the support section of Apple's web site, with one particular thread attracting heavy viewership and numerous theories, explanations and solutions for the mysterious battery problem. All without public input from the company that actually makes the iPhone 4S.

Now, after more than two weeks of silence, Apple has released a statement acknowledging the battery problem, which can be traced not to the battery itself, but to bugs in Apple's update to its mobile operating system, iOS 5.

"A small number of customers have reported lower-than-expected battery life on iOS 5 devices," Apple spokeswoman Natalie Harrison said in a statement to All Things Digital. "We have found a few bugs that are affecting battery life, and we will release a software update to address those in a few weeks."

Obviously, we'll have to wait to see how long before the fixes are made. The fact that a corrective update is at least a "few weeks" away would seem to indicate that the problem isn't easily solved. Or, to be charitable, that Apple likes to make sure its fixes actually fix something.

Unlike, say, Microsoft, which last February released an update to Windows Phone 7 that resulted in 10% of WP7 devices "bricking" (freezing up).

Of course, consumers generally cut Apple a lot more slack than Microsoft when it comes to product snafus. In part that's because of each company's respective track records and reputations. The general belief -- and this is backed up by numerous surveys -- is that Apple puts out better products.

But let's not let Apple off that easy. The company didn't have to go silent for more than two weeks after customers began complaining about their batteries losing as much as 15% in an hour without even being used. Something as simple as a note on the iPhone 4S support thread started by Scarface on Oct. 15 -- acknowledging the complaints and promising to look into the situation -- would have been better than ignoring the fuss. (And if someone from Apple did leave a note, please pass it along, but I didn't see or hear about one.)

Also, minimizing the problem by claiming that only a "small number of customers have reported" battery problems is misleading at best and condescending at worst. Plenty of people complained on the support thread. It's only logical to assume that they're the tip of the iceberg. The vast majority of iPhone 4S owners with battery problems aren't logging on to Apple's support site to leave a complaint, just as the vast majority of readers aren't going to leave a comment below a blog post or article.

In fact, Microsoft used identical language last February when it issued a statement that there was "a technical issue with the Windows Phone update process that impacts a small number of phones." Who knows what the actual number was (though given the poor sales of WP7 devices, we literally may be talking about a small number), but the percentage of WP7 bricks was 10%.

While Apple hasn't handled the iPhone battery problem as poorly as it handled the antenna issue last year -- Steve Jobs essentially characterized the furor as overblown and accused bloggers and the media of being out to get Apple because it's so fantastically successful and popular -- its belated and curt response so far falls far short of "insanely great."

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