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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.
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