Android Smartphones Consume More Data. Here’s Why.

60 Comments

Android (s GOOG) smartphones are the most data hungry, according to new statistics from Nielsen Co., blowing past the iPhone (s AAPL) 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 (s HPQ) phones (448 MB), Windows Phone 7 (s MSFT) (317 MB), and BlackBerry (S RIMM) (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

60 Comments

Ukpets4life

Because people use android phones to the max, do more with them and get more out of them! of course they use more data. Who cares at the end of the day data is where it’s at.

AdamC

Yea android is getting more mainstream users because they are either free or cheap when one signs up a 2 year contract.

Kevin Marks

Maybe Android users are using the excellent Navigation feature more while driving, and thus fetching more map tiles than the more passive maps on iPhone

Saul Goode

If you don’t do any tests, and the article is written as a question, the title can’t be “Android Smartphones Consume More Data. Here’s Why.”

Here’s why: You don’t actually answer the question, just propose two different theories.

Cordel

Since coming from a blackberry, I find that I use the socks off my android as compared to the blackberry. While it took me a while to get used to using a touchscreen, I use my droid far more.

Google maps, eight email accounts, rdp, vlc, ssh, into servers, and voice search to surf the web. collaboration software for work and shopping king to share shopping lists with the future wife. Oh and the news feeds, how do you think I read these articles now. :)

I have now tried hundreds of apps, a hundred games at least, just in a few months. I’m on my computer less and use my phone far more. Had to change my pants when I seen my second months data usage over 1Gb. But we are always on our ones more, out and about and not chained to my computer at work or at home, and still able to be just as productive.

The data caps are a sad deal, and I’ll either have to pay, or bite the bullet and go get a plain phone. As it is,i save allot of money on gas because I can do allot through the droid. I don’t see me changing my new found frugal ways so we will see when i’m forced into a cap. And yes i’m on my android now. I can justify spending for the service but I like putting more money in the bank these days.;)

Cordel

Since coming from a blackberry, I find that I use the socks off my android as compared to the blackberry. While it took me a while to get used to using a touchscreen, I use my droid far more. Google maps, eight email accounts, rdp, vlc, ssh, into servers, and voice search to surf the web. collaboration software for work and shopping king to share shopping lists with the future wife. Ihave now tried hundreds of apps, a hundred games at least, just in a few months. I’m on my computer less and use my phone far more. Had to change my pants when I seen my second months data usage over 1Gb. But we are always on our ones more, out and about and not chained to my computer at work or at home, and still able to be just as productive. The data caps are a sad deal, and I’ll either have to pay, or bite the bullet and go get a plain phone. As it is,i save allot of money on gas because I can do allot through the droid. I don’t see me changing my new found frugal ways so we will see when i’m forced into a cap. And yes i’m on my android now.

Samir

Isn’t the absence of flash player another contributor of less data usage in iPhone?

Robert Scoble

One potential place: On Android phones that I have there’s also have a bunch of widgets, that constantly are downloading things like stocks, weather, Facebook status messages, and such to them. Apple doesn’t have widgets on its iPhones yet. The Verizon Droid X2 has quite a few that even ask you to set them up with your Twitter, Facebook, and other info to get them to work.

Joop deBruin

That is an excellent point Robert! I have non-stop updates all day long, regardless of WiFi or mobile data, much of this via widgets.

Your comment raises a point that I can’t help be snarky about: Apple’s lack of user customization. I can’t count the times I’ve seen several Apple users in airport restaurants or bars lay their phones down, and then struggle to figure out which one belongs to who. We have two identical Android phones in our household – a quick menu button push and the wallpaper, widgets, etc quickly tell me if the device is mine or my wife’s. Android doesn’t follow the sheep…..baaa!

David

Two things, the survey needs to indicate which carrier the users are using as this can greatly impact on amount of data used. The other thing is that apps tend to use a lot less data. Google stuff tends to be much more web centric. Also, as Android apps don’t offer a particularly great user experience, it is more likely that consumers will use more web based applications.

AlfieJr

all of the items mentioned in the article and the comments about Android and its apps doing a lot more behind the scenes server back-and-forth — plus all the ads — add up to the answer to the question of why its data useage is higher on average. Apple clearly designed iOS to hold the server chatter to a minimum, for better battery life as well as lower data useage. whereas Google just doesn’t care about this issue. hey, it’s Open!

Virus

let’s see what we have here … a mere 90 meg differential on average monthly data usage for a sample size (65,000) less than 1% of the install base ?
Looks like, either Nielsen has too much time on its hands, creating irrelevant stats, spreading FUD OR Android is just 90 MB/month much more capable than iOS :)

Allen

They do presidential surveys with 1100 people. 65,000 is a humongous sample. The margin of error is less than 1%.

Peter

Having used both an iPhone 4 and an Android device, I can say that the iPhone connects and actually works with WiFi. The Motorola Droid 2 Global that I had would only manage to stay connected to WiFi only under perfect ideal conditions. I’m not a huge Apple fan by any stretch of the imagination, but they currently make a better phone; my data usage is way down despite using it much more.

vw

You should state that is your opinion. Personally I find iphones blow because on one network you dont receive calls, and on the other network the call quality sucks. Ive never had an issue with my android wifi, and all around its a much better phone (and data devices) than the iphone. Well minus battery life

Joe T.

Yeah, you must realize from just a little investigation that your particular Android phone was defective, right? Blaming wi-fi connectivity on an OS or phones that work for that OS–really? I’ve never failed to connect on wi-fi with an Android phone.

Great article with lots of good comments.

borax99 (Alain C.)

Good to know Android updates aren’t frequent. I’m updating apps practically every single day !

Ben

WebOS is 3rd, really???? How many webOS users are there compared with iOS and Android? I would love to see a break down that shows data usage vs number of devices being used in the market. Android is probably number 1 currently because there are simply more android users than any other platform. Honestly, based on number of users I wouldn’t even expect WebOS to make the chart anymore.

Polo79

I would expect that is an average per phone. If it weren’t, webos wouldn’t register.

Ben

Ah yes, found the link to the original report and saw the other graph. Sorry for misreading the post, is has to be average consumption per user with <600 MB average.

On Sprint's unlimited plan I'm using 4-6 GBs/month by streaming music and podcasts on my Pre.

Lefty

I wondered about those discrepancies myself. Some interesting speculations, but I don’t see any obvious “smoking guns” here, myself…

Matt

How about the fact that Android devices get updated OTA while iOS devices still have to be synced over iTunes? At the rate each genre of device gets updated, and considering iOS updates are a quarter gig a pop, that alone might make the difference.

The other thing I can think of is that Android apps can run in the background without users instantiating them, so apps like Pulse are constantly polling for new data while they can’t on iOS (which manages to delight and annoy me at the same time).

Ryan Kim

Thanks Matt. Good point on apps in the background.

RattyUK

At least when Apple releases an update everyone who owns an iOS device can get it. No carriers to stop updates using the method Apple has chosen.

Jason

Your reply is completely irrelevant with respect to this article. Move along.

Lee

I realize this is completely anecdotal, but I was shocked when I blew through my 500 meg cap in 14 days.

I installed some apps to block 3G access and some to monitor what was using data. It turns out several Android apps don’t respect the “Only download over WiFi” setting. Among them: HTC hub downloaded a ton of junk I didn’t care about and the Pulse news reader did the same.

My usage is down to ~200 megs a month.

Kelly

Could it be some Android phones can stream Flash content, whereas Apple devices can’t? (more multimedia content = more data?)

Djibril

That has been proved to be irrelevant by another statistic which shows that iOS stands for about 80 % of mobile videos. Both because html5 gets More common and because flash aint needed to view for example youtube.

Mike

I seriously doubt that Kelly, reason being on both my old Android devices Flash was horrible and on one of them the browsers would only download most HTML 5 streaming video never stream. On my iOS device I can happily stream pretty much everything from podcast to full length movies from mobilevids. Plus there are tons of stream video apps on iOS. Crackle, Netflix, HBO, My cable company.

Joop deBruin

Kelly,
I agree with you that this is part of the larger picture. Flash runs perfectly on even a Nexus One running Gingerbread. Son’s data use increased from ~500Mb/month to ~850Mb/month once Flash became available on his N1 device.

As for the two other replies to your post – Apple Fanboy talk.

Steven

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.

Mike

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.

WalkFar

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.

mindctrl

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.

Ryan Kim

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

Polo79

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.

Ryan Kim

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.

matt

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.

Ajay

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.

Matt Jurek

“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.

Sean

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.

vw

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

HDCS

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…..

Sunshine1970

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.

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