The iPhone 4S? It added 12 mAh to the battery, totaling 1,432 mAh, and claimed eight hours of 3G talking usage. On some network tests, the iPhone 4S did even better, clocking 9.2 hours of 3G talk time. Then again, in regular human use, the iPhone 4S suffered from software-related bugs that saw marked battery drain, resulting in some rather distrungled Apple support threads. Overall, given the increase in hardware power, the upgrade from an iPhone 4 to a 4S meant a slight increase in battery life, but nothing too significant.
I engaged in a quick back-and-forth with Jeremy Horwitz, the editor of Apple accessory review and news site iLounge (and who happens to live in my neck of the woods) about the general trend in usable battery life across iPhones. He sees a slight loss as a net result:
@kevinpurdy iPhone was 8h talk, iPhone 3G + 3GS were 5 unless you fell back to EDGE. iPhone 4 = 7. More or less steady since.
— Jeremy Horwitz (@horwitz) September 13, 2012
Synthesizing the rumors and supposed leaks about the iPhone 5, it packs a 1440 mAh battery, draws 3.8 V, and Apple claims it will deliver eight hours of 3G talking time, or the same eight hours while browsing on 3G or 4G LTE networks. Tests and assessments from reviewers and pundits will come next week, but will undoubtedly deviate from Apple's numbers.
It’s no small thing, packing all that upgraded hardware into a phone that’s smaller than it first was, doing much more all the time, and keeping battery life from falling off a cliff. Nobody should pretend that the iPhone 5 has the same power requirements as the original iPhone, nor that every user will fare the same with their phone and data habits.
But no matter what, still feels odd that five years later, the iPhone doesn’t deliver the battery life it once did. It makes one think we’re reaching the end of what energy optimization and lithium-ion batteries can accomplish. It makes me hope that energy and battery research laboratories are very hard at work, making the new and intensive look like the light and simple of five years ago. When it does, you'll feel like charging your phone at 3 p.m. every day is a story you can tuck away for your grandkids.