If you try to research the topic online, it doesn’t take long to discover that there are two parties of thought in direct opposition to one another: the first is that Android is about as efficient as a solar-powered flashlight when it comes to data management. The second is that it’s actually the iPhone that’s the huge data guzzler. So who’s right and who’s wrong? What if it’s neither?
After all, data usage primarily depends on the user. You and I can have the exact same operating system (and in a lot of cases, probably do) and consume vastly different amounts of data. However, that is not to say that there aren’t contributing factors that are inherent to the operating system itself. Or that knowing more about such factors and what behaviors and settings tend to use more data won’t make a difference. You can control some of your data destiny.
1. Wi-Fi Versus Mobile Data
An Apple policy that has inspired some complaints from even the loyalest users is a Wi-fi requirement for app downloads over 100MB. Like it or not, this does cut down on some data usage on iPhones. Another difference is how updates are executed. iPhone users receive updates via iTunes over a wired connection, whereas Android users typically receive theirs OTA.
An analyst quoted by Business Insider, Arielle Sumits, has also publicly speculated that iPhone users tend to download more apps and videos than Android users, and these activities end to take place in an environment where Wi-Fi is available. But even if that was and still remains true, the difference is in user behavior, not the operating system itself. Because, unless they are surfing the web at school or work, with no Wi-Fi, it should be easy enough for an Android user to go somewhere with Wi-Fi and do the same thing. So this advantage seems somewhat negligible.
And to play the devil’s advocate even more, Android has been the one with a more open approach to third-party apps. So if users do their web browsing on a browser like Opera Mini, this should result in less data consumption than Safari. That’s because Opera Mini, in particular, compresses data (with some exceptions, like binary and encrypted data) before it’s transmitted. So technically, this should result in Android using less data, but once more it depends on the user’s behavior. No one is being forced to use a data-efficient browser.
2. Differences in Media and Services
There is, at times, a contrast between iOS and Android when it comes to how certain services are handled. Location data that is stored locally by Apple, Google deems necessary to upload to its servers. This, of course, comes with trade-offs. Apple’s devices are saddled with the task of handling that database, whereas Androids are constantly sending information to the cloud—likely resulting in more data use.
One of the great things about Android is that it has more free apps than the iPhone. However, nothing is totally free. The sacrifice in this scenario is that if you download the free version you will likely deal with more ads, and these ads also utilize their own servers—generating more data use. Android users almost always have the option of purchasing an app without any ads, so again, this boils down to user choice.
And while offering certain features (for instance—mobile tethering) well before Apple adopts them can definitely be viewed as a benefit, it can come with a data price. At this point iPhones afford the mobile hotspot option as well, but these delays in the adaptation of such features may be skewing the statistics and Android’s data reputation. Does this mean that the majority of Android users would prefer that Android be behind the curve when it comes to new features? Probably not, but it is helpful to be cognizant of some of the side effects of such usage, so that you can modify your behavior if necessary.
3. Less Effective at Apps Management
One thing about Android is that it’s easy to rack up multiple apps running in the background, and this can definitely contribute to your data usage.You can utilize the Restrict Background Data option through Settings, but not everyone does. It is also arguable that Android allows apps to consume data as they please (unless you intervene), whereas with iOS, typically the only app using data is the one you are currently using. On Android, it’s possible that app you rarely use, if ever, could still be using your data. Out of anything we’ve mentioned, this may be the most likely reason Android would use more data than iOS, but look at the next section to see how you can fix it.
The strategy that each operating system uses to handle multitasking differs as well. Android grants apps a lot of freedom by default—to run at startup, to launch because of an event, to run on a schedule, or continuously. Apple’s vetting of apps before their release into the App Store is a lot more restrictive, and it’s possible that this does prevent these apps from engaging in some irresponsible data-usage behavior. Android is more lax about what apps make it into Google Play; and it allows apps to do basically whatever you give them permission to do—although with the release of Marshmallow, the focus did shift to more finely-tuned permissions.
When it comes to requesting/passing data between different parts of an app, there is nothing set in stone about how a developer has to go about it on the Android system. Apps are given freedom to access services as needed, and to perform post-processing. An inefficiency on iOS’s part, however, lies in how it requests media content during streaming, as a study conducted by Liu, Li, Shen, Guo, and Chen of George Mason and Ohio State Universities revealed redundant traffic during this process, costing more battery life and potentially mobile data usage. With more and more users turning to streaming to view content, and the bulk transmission of data it requires, this could be significant.
4. How to Reduce Android Data Usage
Remember earlier when we said the amount of data usage really depends on the user? Most of this depends on you. To reduce data usage stemming from the Wi-Fi versus Mobile Data problem, shut off Mobile Data when you aren’t using it. If you are one of the lucky ones running Android 7.0 Nougat, turn on Data Saver through your Quick Settings.
Also, the more aware you are of how much data you are using, the better you can control it. You can use the built-in monitor, Data Usage, accessible from Settings; a carrier-provided app, or a third-party app like My Data Manager or Traffic Monitor. When it comes to specific services consuming your data, such as Location Services, you can shut these off unless you need them. You can still enjoy your free apps, but just be aware that they might come with a hidden price paid in data.
To prevent apps from running in the background, turn on the Restrict Background Data option in Data Usage. If you do find that restricting the background data of all apps causes some individual apps to misbehave, you can select apps that you want to restrict background data on individually by tapping on each one. Use the mobile Data Warning to alert you when you have reached a particular data threshold. Or set a Data Limit to turn off Mobile Data when it reaches a certain amount.
Other settings to consider turning off are Auto Sync and Data Roaming. You should also select your app permissions carefully. Remove any apps you don ‘t use. Disable or use Wi-Fi only to update apps by launching Google Play and visiting Settings > Auto Update Apps. If all else fails, put your device in Airplane Mode and you won’t use a thing. So even if it’s true that Android uses more data than iOS (which is still debatable), you have some tools to fix it.
The big winner in terms of data efficiency throughout the years is neither Android nor Apple. It’s actually Blackberry; but that doesn’t seem to have impacted sales too much, and now Blackberry is under different management and runs Android. Nonetheless, carriers are looking to capitalize on your data overages, so being able to make the most of the data your plan already comes with can be vital to your wallet. If you still find yourself running out of data every cycle, it might be worthwhile to reevaluate your data plan, and the stats in Data Usage will help you discover what you really need.
What has helped you reduce your Android data usage? Do you think that Android uses more data than iOS? Send us your thoughts.