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Is Pokémon Go the World's Most Environmentally Unfriendly Smartphone App Ever?

by Stephen Entwistle | 8月 04, 2016

Pokémon Go Users in the US Consume the Equivalent of One Tenth of a Power Station

Of the millions of smartphone apps available for download, Pokémon Go is arguably the fastest-growing and most downloaded app ever released. The addictive nature of the game is that it encourages uses to go out into the real world in order to collect virtual monsters. In that respect it serves some useful social purposes - getting people who might normally spend hours in front of a TV or laptop screen to step outside with their smartphone in search of a wild Jigglypuff or Pikachu. I know of several friends who have walked in excess of 10km on a weekend day in order to Level Up their experience. This aspect of the game is very commendable and should be encouraged.

I have also read articles suggesting that Niantic will earn billions of dollars from in-app purchases if the game proves to be as popular as Candy Crush, which seems to be the case so far. Other beneficiaries include network operators through increased 3G/4G data plans and accessory vendors through increased sales of external battery packs.

But the real loser here could be the planet. The Pokémon Go app is one of the most power-hungry games for smartphones ever. Anyone who has played the game will know how quickly it drains their smartphone battery. Why? GPS, 4G, 3D mapping, graphics processor, apps processor, memory and display are all on and running at high speed. The camera is also on occasionally if the AR toggle is selected. On a hot day in the UK (30 deg C) after using Pokémon Go for 30 minutes my phone was too hot to hold in my hand. After 60 minutes, while holding the phone in a makeshift case, the battery had drained by almost 50%, that's about 1350mAh, or 5 Whr for a typical 3.7 V Li-Ion battery.

Let's look at the US, as more stats are available there than anywhere else. As of June 11 there were 21 million active users spending an average of 43 minutes per day in the app. That's approximately 16 million hours per day. Applying the battery drain per hour to the number of hours played per day gives us an estimated 80 MWhr/day or about 3.3 megawatts continuous output just to keep the smartphones running to play the game. But there are other less tangible consumers of power too: the banks of servers that run the game, the cell towers that handle the extra traffic for the game, the GPS network, the extra internet traffic, the thousands of websites that have been set up for user forums and the laptop time spent by avid players searching for hints and tips to enhance their gaming experience. I'm going to assume that the smartphone only accounts for one third of the total power consumption, so I'm going to triple that figure to give 10 megawatts as the total consumption in the US. I have to hold my hands up at this point and say that this is a ballpark figure, but you can see the assumptions behind my estimate and draw your own conclusions.

Data from the US Department of Energy shows that the average output of a power station in the US is approximately 75 MWh per month, which equates to approximately 100 megawatts continuous output.

In conclusion, Pokémon Go in the US is consuming the equivalent of 1/10th of a power station.

Is that a lot compared to PC/laptop games? Probably not. Is it a lot compared to other smartphone games like Candy Crush? I think so, but I'll let someone else do the math/maths on that as I've got a Charmander to go and catch!

Stuart Robinson

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