As frigid weather continues to pound the East Coast and the Plains, fingers go numb, noses go red and cellphones go out. "We remind customers that their electronics operate best in the same temperatures that people like, too," said Jazmin Hupp, director of marketing at Tekserve, a popular Manhattan Apple reseller.
When the temperature drops below freezing, the lithium-ion batteries can lose some of, or even all, their charge for a time. What looked like a half-full battery when you walked out of the house could soon appear completely empty and shut down in 20-degree weather. Stop inside for a while, restart the phone and the battery will probably appear half-full again.
In most cases, the cold isn't doing any permanent damage — just reducing the power of the battery until you warm it up again. This shouldn't come as a surprise. With the iPhone, for example, Apple's site clearly states, "Operating ambient temperature: 32 degrees to 95 degrees F (0 degrees to 35 degrees C)."
But most people don't read specs. Tekserve's Hupp said that the store's service department has had a spike in complaints about short battery life on iPods and iPhones during the cold snap. In the past week, the company has also sold 20 percent more Mophie Juice Packs — external iPhone batteries. But they are just as susceptible to the cold as the phone's built-in battery.
The only proven remedy is perhaps also the simplest: Put your phone in your pocket. That will disrupt the popular pastime of surfing and walking. But it's the safe bet: protecting not only your phone but also your chilled fingers, as well as decreasing the likelihood of walking into traffic. [See also: How to Improve Android Smartphone Battery Life ]
No technology is likely to be foolproof. "Cases can't really help unless you had a specific case that warmed the product," said Bryan Hynecek, chief designer at smartphone case maker Speck. "Still, you would need something over the glass because that is a large surface … best thing is to keep it in a pocket close to the body and only use in short intervals."
"A good case will mitigate that issue (somewhat)," wrote Ken Sander, owner of New York City electronic repair shop, The Cable Doctor, in an email. Sander recommended one piece of hardware, however. "If you used headphones, it won't be an issue," he said, because the phone would remain in the pocket.