Microsoft Research helping smartphones browse more with less energy

Mark Coppock

Battery Saver

Ask anyone for a top-ten list of things to fix on a smartphone, and battery life is almost guaranteed to be on it. Smartphones are always-on, always-connected devices that sit there in pockets and purses sucking down juice like banana trees in Death Valley. And of all the things a smartphone can do that use energy, Web browsing is one of the worst.
It’s a good thing, then, that Microsoft Research is on the case. According to a post on the Microsoft Research Connections blog, Yunxin Liu, a researcher on Microsoft Research’s Asia team, and a group from the Korea Advanced Instituted of Science and Technology (KAIST), have worked out some nifty tech to help smartphones load Web pages just as fast as always but with a reduced energy load.

It’s all pretty dry and technical, but the team has presented a research paper that outlines three methods for accomplishing their voodoo. Two, “network-aware resource processing” and “adaptive content painting,” are aimed at attacking energy inefficiencies in content and graphics processing. The other, “application assisted scheduling,” reduces energy by exploiting ARM’s big.LITTLE architecture.
So far, Chromium and Firefox have benefitted from the work, and the results are impressive. Using the methods in Chromium on a relevant smartphone (i.e., with a latest-generation big.LITTLE processor), energy savings averaged 24.4% on WiFi and 22.5% on 3G. Most impressively, average page load times were unaffected.
The team presented their findings at MobiCom 2015, an important international mobile computing and networking conference, and so the team’s research is getting noticed where it matters. While there’s work yet to do, including extending the techniques to more browsers (Edge, we’re looking at you), there’s now one more reason to be confident that our smartphones can last long enough on a charge to check that football score a few more times before shutting down.