Android smartphones are the most data hungry, according to new statistics from Nielsen Co., blowing past the iPhone and other smartphones. But does this indicate more usage on the part of Android users or something inherent in the platform that lends itself to more data use?


Android smartphones are the most data hungry, according to new statistics from Nielsen Co., blowing past the iPhone and other smartphones. But it’s still not clear why that is and whether or not this indicates more usage on the part of Android users or something inherent in the platform that lends itself to more data use.

Nielsen said Android users consume an average of 582 megabytes per month over cellular connections. IPhone users were second with 492 megabytes per month followed by WebOS phones (448 MB), Windows Phone 7 (317 MB), and BlackBerry (127 MB) handsets. The data was gathered by looking at more than 65,000 cell phone bills of mobile users. The results fall in line with a previous report in December from Arieso that also found Android devices were the heaviest data users.

Other Nielsen statistics suggest, however, that iPhone users should be the biggest data users. Nielsen said that iPhone users were tops in downloading an app in the last 30 days as well listening to streaming music or watching video in the last month, while Android users were second in all those categories.

Now it could be that Android owners are more power users while iPhone users dabble more broadly but may not be as intense in their data use. This got me thinking there might be other reasons why Android users look like bigger data users. Apple requires apps that are bigger than 200 20 MB to be downloaded over Wi-Fi rather than on a 3G connection. It also does its software updates over a wired connection via iTunes, while Android users get their updates wirelessly. Those updates are more limited in their impact since they’re not frequent, but it does show that Android can natively route more traffic via cellular networks than iOS. Android also has a higher percentage of free apps compared to iOS, and it’s likely the free apps monetize more through ads, which have to communicate frequently with ad servers.

But I also wondered if the whole frenzy over location databases kept by Google and Apple may also be part of the issue. As you may recall, Apple was in the spotlight for the way its iPhones gathered location information in a local database file. Apple said that the database is backed up by Apple when a user connects through iTunes. But Google, however, said that when an Android user opts in for location services, anonymized location information is sent directly to Google’s servers. That means Google is potentially sending a steady stream of information from its phones back to its data centers to improve its location database, something it has to do because it stopped using its Google Street View cars to gather Wi-Fi database information. This could also help explain why Android users appear to be using more data.

Now, I could totally missing the mark on this. And perhaps it just comes down to the fact that Android users are more savvy. That wouldn’t be totally surprising, especially since Android devices gained mobile hotspot functionality in the U.S. before iPhones did. The platform was more popular initially with programmers and tech enthusiasts who were attracted by Android’s openness and its ability to modify it. So it could be that these users just try to get more out of their devices. Nielsen tells me that Android users skew younger in the 25-34 year old age group, which might also have an effect with younger users potentially more active on Android.

But I think it’s a good question to raise considering Android is now the leading smartphone platform and it’s attracting more mainstream users now, not just techie early adopters. And all this is happening in an age when broadband caps and tiered data plans are now becoming more of a reality, which is putting more of a spotlight on data efficiency. Now, I’m not sure users are going to be attracted to data-sipping platforms like BlackBerry just to save a buck, but this could impact some Android users if they’re finding their usage is higher than it ought to be not because of their actions, but because of the platform’s inherent characteristics.

Again, I could be way off on this. So I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and why you think Android is using up more data. What do you think?

Image courtesy of Gottabemobile

  1. Sunshine1970 Tuesday, May 31, 2011

    Only 582mb? Hah. Average for me is around 1 gig using 3G. :-)

    (When I’m on wifi, my average is around 1.5 gigs. This month has been closer to 3 gigs, though.)

    I do a lot of streaming music and radio stations, and I have found I use my phone more often than I do my laptop for surfing the web as well.

  2. his is a quandary I’ve recently stumbled upon myself. My husband’s had his Apple phone for a couple of years now and has never exceeded 600 Mb in a month on his phone. Since I got an Inspire earlier this year I’ve gradually crept up on this mark. Two weeks into my latest billing period, I’ve already exceeded 400 Mb when I last checked.

    I suspect that it is a myriad of reasons as you point to here. Another consideration is Android’s better multitasking and differing user interface that allows so much to stay active even though in the background. We just don’t realize how chatty our phones are when it’s not right in front of us. I suspect with this in mind that as iOS gets better and the processors improve in speed, the iPhone users will see their usage creep up as well. Further I suspect that carriers will need to reconsider their data tier levels sooner than they anticipate…..

  3. Just guessing based on anecdotal observation: it’s easier to tether an Android device as a hotspot? The two carriers I’ve used don’t charge extra for it.

    1. DingDingDing we have a winner. This plus more 4G phones..Oh wait iPhone isnt 4G, so cant consume nearly the amount of data

  4. “Apple requires apps that are bigger than 200 MB to be downloaded over Wi-Fi rather than on a 3G connection.”

    Its 20 MB where you have to download over wifi.

    1. Thanks Matt. Gonna get that fixed.

  5. It’s worth noting that RIM compresses data before it is delivered to BlackBerry devices (http://blogs.blackberry.com/2011/01/blackberry-datasmart/). Raw quantity of data downloaded (as reported by carrier phone invoices) likely understates the actual quantity of information consumed by BlackBerry devices.

    1. Most of the data being sent to Android phones & iPhones is likely being compressed. Audio/video is inherently compressed. Most web servers send compressed data. Not sure about email.

      I’d be wary of a any BlackBerry-funded studies.

  6. It could also be the different implementations of multi-tasking each OS has; since iOS kind of “freezes” the apps that are in the background and Android lets them run for the most part.

  7. Though I have a feeling it has to do with the types of users ie: Soccer moms (ios users) are less likely to be power users as the young and the tech savvy. I think it also has to do with the types of apps (widgets) on android to apples regular ‘ole open and close programs.

    1. Yeah, a consistent theme here in the comments is Android’s apps and widgets which are often able to keep running while Apple’s apps don’t really do that as much. Thanks for the comment.

  8. A couple of thoughts:

    The title says “Here’s why”, but offers only conjecture.

    Mobile carriers are complaining about data usage and trying to nickel and dime us to death and the average is only roughly half a gig? We should all revolt and drop these costly data package ripoffs.

    1. Thanks, My headline was little much. But thanks for the comment.

  9. It may be more informative to look at the distribution of use and not just the average. Hypothetically, one platform may have a few high data users and many low data users and the other platform more users in the center. Even the median may be offer a different picture than the average.

  10. Another cause could be that folks on capped data plans (AT&T and Verizon) may be hesitant to really use the internet features as much as they could. Whereas Android users on Sprint can use their devices as much as they want.

    1. You are 100% correct my friend. I had an unlimited data plan on AT&T when my wife felt she wanted the iPhone an iPhone over Android. She left Verizon and purchased a 3G last against my advice, instead of the $100 3G S and wounded up taking my iPhone 4 with unlimited. I couldn’t take it anymore and bought another iPhone 4 off contract but it was to later her line was stuck with a cap. I didn’t want to get stuck with any overages so I took over her capped line and ever since I find myself closing background apps, streaming less music, not watching much video while on the go. I hate these data caps. It is funny, they use to have us counting mins to rip off us now they have us counting MBs.


Comments have been disabled for this post