Categorized | Smart Phone App

Smartphones do dumb things to drain batteries. Volt-Up has a solution for Android

Interview with Founder of Volt-Up, Joseph “Yossi” Weihs

Smartphones do dumb things to drain batteries. Volt-Up has a solution for Android

Joseph Weihs

PowerMax by Volt-Up is a simple utility to extend your Android’s battery life. Because our smartphones are today fully-fledged computers, they are performing a lot of functions. And the price it pays for this multitasking — and Android in particular –is that it uses a lot of battery power.

We all love our “apps” but truth is, there are times when we want our smartphone to be just a phone. And we need that phone to last as long as possible.

A simple phone (or “dumb” phone) can last two weeks on a single battery charge. But most smartphones won’t last six hours. So we thought, let’s give people a toggle switch they can use to turn a smartphone into a dumb phone.

When you can switch off all the smart functionality, the battery will last up to twice as long. Very useful for situations when you don’t have a charger nearby and you want your phone to last as long as possible. How many people do you know who carry a charger with them everywhere they go?

An Accidental Birth

The story that got us thinking about all this was a friend whose daughter was involved in a car accident. He was in the emergency room with her. He needed to keep family updated. Meanwhile his smartphone kept pushing him Facebook and Twitter updates, and in short time, while in the hospital worrying about his daughter, his smartphone battery died. He wasn’t in a position to charge it. Naturally he never thought of turning off his Facebook and Twitter feeds. He needed something really simple. He just needed to push a button that would stop his phone from doing these fun, smart things, and just be a dumb phone.

This true story really resonated with our customers because people get it. Moms get it. A lot of moms want to use their smartphone for social applications. But every once in a while, you’re out with your kids, you want to feel safe. You want to feel that your phone will be there if you need it, if you have a flat tire driving home late at night from a Taylor Swift concert, for example.

When we started our Boston-based company in October 2010, the idea was to do something beyond this, to introduce technologies that would extend the battery life on these phones at any given time. We’re still working on that and we recently applied for a patent.

The challenge is that a battery-saving app should be embedded in cellphones by manufacturers or carriers. Those kind of agreements take a long time to negotiate. So for us to get out to the market and prove what we have works, not wait for funding or wait 18 months for our first carrier deal to put our software on a phone, we just did it and started selling it on the Android Marketplace like many other apps developers.

Funding Matters Not

We were not funded. We did not take venture capital. We started Volt-Up with just myself and a partner who has since decided to seek other ventures. We both bootstrapped it, putting in a few thousand dollars for expenses.

Not to say that we didn’t try for venture capital. We had meetings with more than 20 VCs and angel investors. These meetings were actually very useful because we got a lot of critique on our business plan, and we made a lot of changes along the way.

A Focus on Android

Smartphones do dumb things to drain batteries. Volt-Up has a solution for AndroidOur focus is on Android because Android phones have more battery problems than any other phones. There are dozens of applications for Android to control and switch all the different configuration settings in the phone. And there are literally hundreds of configuration settings in a phone. Techies love to tweak those configuration settings and automate things so that when you walk into the office, it turns off your GPS and it turns on your Wi-Fi, things like that.

There are many apps that do that. We believe these cool apps are attractive to about 20 percent of the smartphone population. The majority are not as interested in understanding all the internal workings. They just want it to work right. They want to enjoy their fun apps. They want the battery to last through the day, at the very least. Our sweet spot is making a utility that extends the battery life and is very simple to use and understand.

Smartphones do dumb things to drain batteries. Volt-Up has a solution for AndroidWe’ve received some irate feedback from power users about obscuring and hiding what our application does. They say, “You know, give us all these different configurations since we want to tweak it.”

And our answer is, sorry, that is not our focus. Our focus is to make this simple. All you need is 10 seconds to learn how to use PowerMax. If you want to probe deeper, then you’re not among the 80 percent that we’re targeting.

Competition Never Sleeps

On the Android market, which is the definitive source for downloading Android apps, you’ll find literally dozens of apps that are battery extenders and dozens to hundreds of applications that are configuration tweakers.

One very well-known battery app is called JuiceDefender. When you start it, you get presented with about four screens with all sorts of different configuration settings. Sorry, but I find this can get daunting. This app is more suitable for the backyard mechanic.

Keeping it Simple

Smartphones do dumb things to drain batteries. Volt-Up has a solution for AndroidWe didn’t feel right with just creating a paid-for app that wouldn’t work for some people. If you’re a backyard mechanic, our app probably won’t do a lot for you because you’ve already configured your phone and you’re probably going to tweak the settings yourself.

We felt the right thing was to offer a free trial, to let people use the full capabilities of the app for a limited period, to prove to yourself that it actually is worth $1.99.

Once you install the app, you get three days or 10 uses; a use is you turn on the app and then you turn it off. If you want to turn it on and off a lot of times, you will still get three days to try it. Once the trial period is over, the app goes into a reduced functionality mode so that you get some of the benefits of the app but not the full benefits.

Like most free versions, it starts showing advertising, although we’re not making any real money from these spots. Total receipts from advertising last month were $22.00. Ad spots are mostly there to send users the message that they’re now running the free version; that’s what users have grown to accept and expect to see from freebies.

What makes the difference

Aside from ease of use, we have features that our competitors don’t have in terms of controlling certain parts of the phone that are not typically open to control because of certain limitations imposed by the device manufacturers or by Google. It’s the sort of thing where, if you download three or four different apps and run them together, you’ll get similar functionality.

We have patent-pending technology that will extend battery life even further, and they are very unique. Unfortunately you can’t install it on a phone after it’s been built.

How it Works

Our patents center on how you manage the various components of the phone. Given that a phone typically has six radios in it. By radio, I mean a device that’s able to both transmit and receive radio frequency. And any time you transmit, you’re using up power.

With the PowerMax widget, a toggle switch lets you turn the app on and off. With the switch on, the app basically turns off these radios when you’re not using them. What we have in our patent application is a technique to better analyze your personal usage pattern, to customize the way the phone turns off the radios so that your usage draws less radio use, and improved battery life over Android default settings.

A user can override any of the configuration settings. So if you decide to use Google Maps and it prompts you to turn on the GPS, you can simply turn on GPS on the configuration screen. We made a conscious decision not to actively monitor a user’s configuration and change things, because actively monitoring actually uses up more battery.

The only thing PowerMax does in the background is basically collect information about how fast the battery is discharging. Why we do that is to estimate how much battery power the app saves when the app is on versus when it’s off.

PowerMax doesn’t do anything in the background without your permission.

We’re close to reaching 5,000 downloads of Volt-Up PowerMax. We hope Shoestring readers give it a try. You can find the app on the Android Market by clicking: https://market.android.com/details?id=com.voltup.powermax .

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