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Summary:

Nearly half of the page views from Apple iPhones come through a Wi-Fi network as does 91.9 percent of iPad web browsing. Android device users use more mobile broadband, but why? Here are four reasons that explain this broadband phenomenon, which is unlikely to change soon.

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Nearly half of the page views from Apple iPhones come through a Wi-Fi network as does 91.9 percent of iPad web browsing. Android device owners lean more heavily on mobile broadband networks, which explains the trend of Android smartphones using more monthly bandwidth than their iOS counterparts. Last month, Nielsen research indicated that the average Android phone consumes 582 MB of data while the average iPhone eats up 492 MB.

The web browsing data comes by way of comScore, which today reported its findings that reinforce Nielsen’s information. Neither report suggests an explanation for the data use discrepancy between iOS and Android devices, but there are a number of clues that could be contributing factors:

  • Android updates arrive over the air. Although Android devices don’t see firmware updates as often as iOS phones or tablets, Android software generally can’t be updated via a USB cable and computer. Some consumers could be downloading these updates over a 3G or 4G wireless connection as opposed to Wi-Fi networks.
  • iOS restrictions. Certain file types in iOS can’t be downloaded over a mobile broadband network. Software applications or podcasts over 20 MB in size, for example, are only available over Wi-Fi, while Android has no such restriction. Video calling in FaceTime on iOS is also limited to Wi-Fi networks. In contrast, third-party video calling services on Android are able to be used on a 3G or 4G connection.
  • Widgets are hungry! Android smartphones support widgets, which are small applets that provide updated information at a glance. These widgets can reach out to the web for information on a near-constant basis, regardless of whether the user is on Wi-Fi or an operator network. With 400,000 Android smartphones activated daily, and presumably on the move in people’s pockets, mobile broadband data consumption for those widgets can add up quickly.
  • Different carriers, different plans. When the iPhone launched on AT&T, it enjoyed unlimited smartphone plans. That changed last year when AT&T opted for tiered plans. Sprint (s), Verizon, and T-Mobile still have unlimited data plans (although that’s going to change soon for Verizon) and these networks have more Android devices in use. Verizon only just launched the iPhone this year, while Sprint and T-Mobile have no iPhone of their own. With unlimited plans, the Android device owners on these three networks may be less concerned about Wi-Fi offload.

The tablet data from comScore is the first I’ve seen in terms of network use. With more than 9 out of 10 iPad browser page views done on Wi-Fi, the information tells me a few things. First, while 3G iPads are surely selling to customers, it could be argued that many are buying the 3G capability as a secondary use case: Data caps could be a factor here. This also suggests that iPad owners may be using the devices more at home or in businesses that offer Wi-Fi networks.

And lastly, although this may be stretch, the higher Wi-Fi use on tablets could back up my premise that Mi-Fis and smartphones with wireless hotspots are becoming more accepted by consumers. While there will always be a market for MiFi-like devices, I expect people won’t want multiple data plans and will instead simply add the hotspot feature to a smartphone for an additional $20 per month. In either case, these 3G / 4G connections would likely appear as Wi-Fi usage because the tablets that connect through them are actually using Wi-Fi to get the shared connection.

  1. Let me give you one more factor from personal experience.

    Because I was locked into Verizon I was an Android user until this February. I would keep Wi-Fi off on my Droid because it would make my already terrible battery life abysmal. I found 3G was fast enough to do whatever I needed to do even when I was at home or another place with a wireless network. Also the Droid would frequently flake out when it would switch back and firth.

    Since finally getting my iPhone I leave Wi-Fi on and automatically shift whenever I hit a familiar network. It’s much more seamless and doesn’t carry the battery hit and network glitches that Android has.

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    1. Wi-Fi actually uses less battery power, so I always left my HTC Inc.’s on. Most android handsets seem to have shitty battery life though. Didn’t personally experience network glitches though.

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  2. Free tethering isn’t unheard of with Android phones, either. As of Android 2.2, it was carrier-enabled with the T-Mobile Nexus One.

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  3. “In either case, these 3G / 4G connections would likely appear as Wi-Fi usage because the tablets that connect through them are actually using Wi-Fi to get the shared connection.”
    You are right this is a stretch because wifi is free and paying $20 to use the phone as a hotspot is kind of lame.

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    1. Simon White Friday, June 24, 2011

      Not when you’re using a mi-fi as he’s saying. The iPad ‘appears’ to be on wi-fi but is actually using 3G.

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  4. Another factor – I believe iOS devices ship with WiFi on out of the box, and pop up a notification when a network is available. Eery android phone I have had ships with it off.

    The average user probably never changes a single setting on their phone. I have three salespeople that all have HTC Desires, and a mother in law with an EVO, and I can guarantee that none of them have any idea how to use wifi on their devices. They also still have all of the default widgets on their home screens.

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  5. here’s one overlooked POV:
    everything coming out of Apple is limited to 3G, which (especially on iPads) sucks for streaming video, while pretty much all Android devices that came out in the last year or so have either HSDPA+ radios(on GSM networks) or WiMax/LTE on CDMA.

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  6. I infer that android users have bigger data plans and use data ubiquitously. IPhone users only surf at home / at work.
    Its in line with Google’s search for anything anytime paradigm and apple’s ridiculous restrictions on downloads.

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  7. I think the biggest contributor are the plans. Most Android users I know are on unlimited data plans. In addition to that many have rooted their phones so they can use wifi tethering apps. I know at least 2 people who have dumped their internet service at home in favor of tethering from their Evo 4g’s.

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  8. I choosed a 64GB WiFi iPad 2 because I didn’t want to pay for an extra dataplan in a situation where I don’t even use half the 500MB on my present plan. And because tethering with the iPhone doesn’t cost extra here in Denmark. Due to a more efficient competition, I think.

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