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Android Smartphones Consume More Data. Here’s Why.

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 Responses to “Android Smartphones Consume More Data. Here’s Why.”

  1. Brewski

    From my own recent personal research, I used 3G Watchdog to analyze what uses the data, and surprisingly the dialer uses a good bit of data. Also, third party email apps like Kaiten and K-9, while cool, suck way more data than the native Gmail app. I also disabled background data sync, effectively disabling push, but you can manually refresh email or turn the background data when you truly need it. All of these things have made a huge difference (from an avg of 45M per day to around 10M)

  2. sipher

    What is wrong with people? I am paying $30 a month for unlimited data. Why would you not use unlimited? I use on average 20-30g a month. With a 1ghz processor in a android phone you can cancel att or comcast internet and use your phone. There are enough free movie and video streaming apps out there to put blockbuster out of business. (They’re going bankrupt, by the way) Get smart and get what you pay for before it is too late, and there is no more unlimited data.

  3. Cate P

    Interesting article and particularly relevant to Verizon’s upcoming move to tiered/usage-based data pricing in July. Maybe it’s time to switch to the iPhone; with the Android HTC I am using between 1.3 and 1.5 gig per month without any tethering or massive streaming apps like netflix. Any suggestions as to how I can lower my usage? Any setting changes possibly?

  4. Mitesh

    This is exactly why data plans should not be tiered. Internet usage cannot be billed like electricity usage because the user does not have control over efficiency. Should users stop visiting rich websites because of metered usage? We will be back to the text only craigslist(very efficient) like websites of the 19th century. Also, users will be afraid of refreshing a webpage because they will be billed for that second refresh while not really getting any new content. I first heard of this metered Internet usage idea few years ago in college and I have since been dreading that. The only way to tier Internet usage is by speed. Whoever wants faster downloads/video/music etc. can pay more while basic user can be rewarded for NOT being a bandwidth pirate.

  5. There are two factors at play here.

    Firstly, iPhones are pretty much the “go-to” smartphone device of today. So, anyone wanting to have the “in” thing will buy an iPhone. These users are unlikely to be heavy users of the iPhone and so the average data usage will go down.

    Secondly, Android (as mentioned in the article) uses more services that require data. This is coupled with the fact that services on Android run in the background. Hence, unlike on the iPhone data is being continuously drained.

    • Joop deBruin

      iPhone as the “go-to” isn’t working very well, dependent on which recent quarter you review, its market share is either static or slightly growing while Android continues to skyrocket.

  6. Take a look at what happens in your browser when looking at Gmail. The browser is constantly querying google for new updates. This is needless network traffic. If Google is doing it there it’s almost certainly doing it throughout the Android experience.

  7. James Hancock

    It’s quite simple: An iphone pops up a prompt to use any wireless that it could possibly connect to every time you try and use data…. to the point of madness.

    Android puts it in the notification bar and makes it difficult to get connected.

    As a result those iphones are using wi-fi WAY more. Especially for non-technical users.

    I’ve tested this myself with a few neo-phytes and in every case if there was an open wi-fi network in range or one where the person knew the key, the iphone user was almost guaranteed to use it. In the case of the Android user only one person tried, and they failed and gave up and used 3G. The less techy the person, the more likley they failed, whereas with the iphone no such issue existed.

    It’s simply bad design on the android, which is nothing new for google UI… the suck at it. Just look at their cash cow google ad-words. Makes them the majority of their money and it’s so user hostile that even super technical people can’t understand it.

  8. I can only speak from experience having both an iPhone 4 and an HTC Desire HD. I think my gmail app seems to get new emails a lot sooner than the iPhone. I think the iPhone probably goes out and looks for new emails and maybe the Gmail client gets them pushed to it, so it does it more often, rather than the ‘bulk’ downloads the iPhone does…I prefer the Android way.

    I do tend to read news and rss feeds on the HTC Desire HD as it has a much bigger screen and its just easier than straining your eyes on the perfect retina display that is just tiny. Lots of Android phones now sport larger screens, are we reading more news on them or browsing more because of this?

    Also podcasts are downloaded onto my Android, whereas on my iPhone, they are downloaded via my Mac and synced and I actually prefer my podcasts being managed on iTunes as I can choose to listen or watch via my iPhone or via my Apple TV.

    I am rather spoilt having an iPhone 4, Android HTC Desire HD and a Samsung Galaxy Tab though :-)