Facing mobile broadband caps, it’s easy for consumers to blame constant web browsing and occasional online video as the big bandwidth hogs, but they shouldn’t give a free pass to their mobile apps. The average smartphone software uses 10.7 MB per hour, according to Virgin Media Business, which studied data usage of the 50 most popular mobile apps in the U.K. The hungriest software, Tap Zoo, topped out far higher than the average, using up to 115 MB per hour.
While these hourly data utilization rates are much lower than streaming video or other media, consumers often jump in and out of apps at various times during the day. Virgin Media’s estimate is that the typical smartphone owner uses apps for 667 minutes per month, which equates to 11 hours. The number of downloaded apps is expected to top 44 billion by 2016, and app usage is on the rise, so it would be short-sighted to dismiss the mobile broadband usage required by data-hungry software on smartphones.
Mobile app developers could face a challenge if the trend continues, something I noted back in October, when I asked programmers in a GigaOM Pro report (subscription required) if their apps were ready for metered data and other limited bandwidth plans:
As apps continue to gain popularity, developers will need to be more mindful of how much data their apps consume, and I wonder what impact the HTML5 web standard will have on data consumption in the long-term. More importantly, as apps eat up more data due to additional functionality, how will developers contend with the inevitable tiered mobile broadband pricing?
Optimization of mobile data in apps isn’t a new problem, but I expect that it will face greater scrutiny from app developers and consumers as we move towards tiered pricing models for data, and, as my colleague Stacey Higginbotham discussed earlier this year, the finite amount of wireless spectrum is gobbled up by data-hungry apps.
I’m betting most consumers aren’t aware of how much data their apps are using; after all, the figure will vary based on the type of app, how often the software is used, if it runs in the background and pulls data, and even which platform it runs on. But maybe there’s an opportunity for improved consumer awareness.
Any time you install a mobile application now, you know in advance exactly how big the software is because the amount of the app download is provided. Perhaps it’s time to consider extending that practice to the data requirement for the app. Maybe a ranged estimate of how much broadband a program will use should be included in the application’s description, much like the estimated fuel consumption for an automobile?