This morning, we got to have a bit of a fireside chat (or rather, a chat by the heater) with Dr. Raymond Soneira, President of DisplayMate Technologies, and the scientist who conducted the study on the faulty brightness and sensory controls of smartphones, which you may have read about earlier this morning. Dr. Soneira discussed the results of his study, his feelings on the whole brightness control fiasco and whether or not manufacturers will ever get to the root of the problem.
ML: Dr. Soneira, what inspired to pursue this study?
As you know, I love picture quality issues and getting the colors and grayscales to come out right, and not everybody has that same perspective that I have, but everybody has really strong feelings about their battery life. Som I was really shocked that the manufacturers were not using these controls to maximize battery life. You can give someone 20% more battery life and they are grateful. I thought this particular issue, in terms of power consumption, would get people’s attention.
ML: Why did you pick the iPhone 4, Samsung Galaxy S and the HTC Desire as your case studies?
The iPhone is the benchmark standard, and this was actually a follow up--it's part 2 of the original shoot out, so I already have the iPhone 4, and I had kept the Galaxy S because I thought it was the best of the super OLED phone. I wanted to see how the best of the best were doing.
Because of the Android issue, I managed to borrow another Android phone just so that I could confirm that the issue I discovered on the Samsung Galaxy S phone was not a Samsung issue, but an Android one. That’s why I [got the] HTC Desire phone.
ML: Why do you think faulty light sensors were installed in phones?
There’s a history to these things. For 30 years I’ve been finding that automatic brightness controls never work. The manufacturers haven’t thought about them to the extent that the front facing ambient light sensor isn’t measuring what it needs to be measuring. It's just something they put on and something no one really thought about. Nobody thought about putting the sensor behind dark glass [such as the problem with the light sensors]--it's a fashion issue that gets in the way of function.
ML: Is it even possible for manufacturers to change the way they design phones so that they could add on better light sensors?
These sensors are not that expensive; they cold put more than one, and the forward facing one just doesn’t make any sense. Putting it high up on the back might make sense, but my feeling is that a better place to put the sensor is on the top center rear. Most people don’t hold the phone really high up so that their hand would block the sensor. But, smartphones have the problem because there isn’t enough space.
ML: How do you think this issue will impact society? Do you think that people will start advertising the adverse effects of bright screens, just like they did of sitting too close to the television?
The reason I focused on battery life is that it's something I know people 100 percent of the people want. I wrote the article with that perspective because I know that would resonate with most of the audience. But, some people are very sensitive to video display issues of brightness. I’m always amused at the 50 pages of things you shouldn’t do included with the device. They come up with stuff you wouldn’t imagne any normal person would think about. I’m hoping that people are sensitive to that. I think televisions can have a much greater impact on eye strain and headaches because they are so big and they are so bright and people typically watch them when it’s relatively dark--and for hours at a time. Whereas phones, they are so much more variable. Hopefully people will pay attention to the ergonomic issues.
ML: How much power can we actually save with an accurate auto brightness sensor? Does it even matter with LED backlit displays?
You can see that in normal ambient room lighting, the brightness should be one-third of peak brightness, so if you’re watching, you’re looking at your iPhone in normal room lighting. The display power should be reduced by two-thirds from what it is, so you’re only using one-third of the power.
Using typical home lighting--depends on what you want to use as your baseline--the calibration line I claim is optimum would help the battery last 35 percent longer. If you do it in office lighting, 25 percent longer. The Samsung Galaxy S has a much be bigger savings because of the OLED display, which uses a lot more power (55 percent). For the typical home situation, the battery would last 63 percent longer if it were set appropriately based on the optimum setting that is used in the article. Of course, your brightness may vary. Same thing they say with cars--mileage will vary.
ML: What do you hope to see as the result from the study you published?
At the end of the article, I suggest how the user interface should work as compared to how it’s currently working. I’m interested to see how they take into account my consideration. Apple is really into their own interface user design, but I think they should be embarrassed at how poorly they did the interface and the implementation of the auto brightness. I think the data speaks for itself--the data is the data.
For more information on Dr. Raymond Soneira, and DisplayMate techologies, visit the official site.