It is easy to dismiss how dependent a modern lifestyle is on the ability to charge batteries and consume large amounts of data via WiFi continuously. Even less interruptions to the Internet and electrical services can be frustrating, but how do iPhones, Apple Watches and Macs go off-line for a long time? I found this unexpectedly this week.
Just after noon on July 20, a round of heavy storms sent a large cedar that crashed to the ground in my front yard and interrupted the power and communication lines that ran to my home and office. The whole region, with countless trees and tool rods broken, the cell towers were even offline for several hours, customers in rural areas. Severe weather of this caliber is very unusual along the northern edge of the Midwestern United States.
While most family and friends had power and internet restored in one day, ran one line from my house to the road was low priority for a crew that was overworked and stretched thin tackle of major power outages. The power was not restored until the afternoon of July 23, about 76 hours later The internet service remains disconnected while writing this.
The tree that disconnected from the power and communication lines.
Getting off the grid for a camping trip or hiking in the woods can be relaxing. When traveling, airports and hotels are designed to minimize stress by finding an outlet or a free WiFi connection. But at home I was completely unprepared. My job is dependent on a constant connection, so beyond looting at Starbucks, I learned to take full advantage of the power and data saving features of iOS and macOS to cope. I also discovered a few options for software improvements that would make situations like my lesser headache.
Low Power Mode
Low Power Mode on iOS is probably the most effective way to extend the life of the iPhone battery. While browsing the settings in Settings, the screen brightness decreases and reduces background tasks such as downloads and retrieval of new mail. I use low power mode often while I travel and swear by it, so that was the first thing I activated when the power was cut. A switch extended the battery life by hours over several days.
MacBooks could also benefit from low power mode. Switching from the power adapter to battery power already makes it possible for a variety of energy-saving features, but switching for additional performance optimizations – such as freezing background apps – can significantly improve powerful macOS. My MacBook was the most challenging device to keep charged far, especially since it can't be fed with a standard portable USB-A power bank.
I've been using Personal Hotspot on my iPhone for the last four days than the four years before this power outage. Sharing cell data with my MacBook has been critical to working while my home internet is down. The Personal Hotspot is perfect for short docking sessions, but is short for continuous use, especially when transporters are too expensive.
Data usage control would make Personal Hotspot much more useful and economical. As of today, there is no way to see how much data some units use while they are bound. On newer iPhones, the display screen also prevents you from seeing how many devices are connected in the status bar.
Low Data Mode
Like Low Power Mode, the addition of Low Data Mode on macOS can further alleviate cell data limitations. iOS 13 will add this opportunity to iPhones when it launches later this year. Some individual apps already have data control settings for features such as auto-play video and high-resolution images, but a system-wide switch ensures that nothing falls through the cracks. As it stands today, having a Mac connected via the Personal Hotspot at all times is largely impractical without an unlimited data plan.
Data sharing between devices with the same Apple ID also has the potential to cut down on mobile usage. For apps that are present on both iOS and macOS such as Messaging, Mail and Images, the data can theoretically be transmitted locally between devices rather than being downloaded multiple times over the same cellular connection.
I charge my Apple Watch nightly regardless of the circumstances and have been fortunate that I never drove the battery dead since the upgrade to a Series 4 model last fall. Faced with the need to stretch my batteries for as long as possible, I was pleasantly surprised at how long the latest Apple Watch can be left from a charger. Between Saturday morning and Monday night, I only needed about 20 minutes of charging time to keep the clock running with a healthy battery life. I minimized alerts and turned off WiFi to conserve power, but didn't need to enter the Power Reserve, turn back the brightness of the screen, disable background app update, or enable power-saving mode in the Workout app.
The flashlight switch was added to watchOS 4 is also surprisingly useful. I have never had any real reason to use it except for novelty, but in a pinch it can only be more useful than the iPhone flashlight because you can use it hands-free.
If you have a new Apple Watch, do not reject the feature as a gimmick – the 1000-nit screen is lighter than you might expect.
I've been slow to use HomeKit devices in my lifestyle, but with power recovery and internet service still disconnected, I'm grateful that only a few of my lights are smart. The HomeKit fixtures I have are mostly useless right now, making them even less practical than the standard lights and switches. Extended power outages like mine are unusual, but it is worth considering the possibility that a similar event will happen to you at home before you throw out all of your standard furnishings. Needless to say, my HomePod is also reduced to an elegant paper weight.
Attending my welcome at Starbucks helped minimize data usage.
Thanks to some creative planning and recent advances in Apple's battery technology, I hardly needed to touch my portable power banks during any part of the 76-hour power outage. A little bit of strategy can go a long way towards preserving your devices in the event of an actual emergency. Cell data is still difficult to manage even on modern iPhones and Macs, but if you can accept not being "extremely online" for a few days longer than me, the Personal Hotspot is still a great solution. It is also worth contacting your operator to see if they will provide a one-time cache in case of a known widespread interruption.
Do you have other tips for managing power and data under unexpected circumstances? Please let me know in the comments.
Check out 9to5Mac on YouTube for more Apple news: