iPhones, iPads thrive on Wi-Fi, Androids on 3G and 4G

Nearly half of the page views from Apple(s aapl) iPhones come through a Wi-Fi network as does 91.9 percent of iPad web browsing. Android (s goog) 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 (s nlsn) 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, (s scor) 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(s t), it enjoyed unlimited smartphone plans. That changed last year when AT&T opted for tiered plans. Sprint (s), Verizon (s vz), 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.