With unlimited data plans soon to be history, it seems Wi-Fi will soon become key to the growth of not just iPads, but also iPhones. A survey released by ComScore shows that of smartphone owners in the U.S. and U.K., iPhone(s AAPL) users are far more likely than their Android-toting counterparts to take advantage of Wi-Fi networks when available.
The study shows that in the U.S. 71 percent of iPhones and 32 percent of Android(s GOOG) phones connect to Wi-Fi and cell networks. In the U.K., the divide was a little narrower: 87 percent of iPhones and 57 percent of Android phones connect to both types of networks.
ComScore points to increasingly scarce spectrum and, of course, carriers moving away from unlimited data plans as reasons for this behavior:
“The scarcity of unlimited data plans and higher incidence of smartphone pre-paid contracts with a pay-as-you-go data model likely contributes to data offloading among users wanting to economize their mobile usage. In addition, the current lack of high-speed data networks in the U.K. might also lead users to seek out higher bandwidth capacity on Wi-Fi networks. In the U.S., the increased availability of LTE, 4G and other high-speed data networks currently make it less necessary for smartphone users to offload, but it’s also possible that the diminishing availability of unlimited cellular data plans will eventually push more usage to Wi-Fi.”
Wi-Fi’s popularity among mobile devices isn’t limited to iPhones: Tablet users are overwhelmingly in favor of Wi-Fi use too. Two weeks ago mobile analyst Chetan Sharma released a report noting that in 2011, more than 90 percent of tablets in the U.S. connected to Wi-Fi instead of mobile broadband. While sales of tablets shot up last year, the percentage of 3G- and 4G-capable tablets stayed relatively low. And it’s safe to assume that the iPad is what we’re talking about when it comes to tablets: It accounted for roughly two-thirds of all tablets sold in the U.S. in 2011.
So while iPhone users are relying heavily on Wi-Fi, so are iPad users. It’s not clear what exactly accounts for the difference in behavior between iOS and Android users — it could be something as simple as that Wi-Fi is just easier to set up on iOS devices.
But it also may have something to do with the amount of content users are downloading. And with the new iPad, it’s likely that this reliance on Wi-Fi will only increase. Its shiny new high-definition display makes watching videos on it easier on the eyes than ever — and that can eat through monthly data plans pretty quickly.