Android vs iOS : Data Consumption Analysis

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android-vs-apple

I have followed with keen interest the ongoing debate about the data guzzling capabilities, or otherwise, of the android OS platform. Expectedly, most of the arguments made in favour of the IOS or Android platforms have been mainly subjective. An objective analysis of this subject, admittedly, is quite difficult.

CNET summarizes this adequately; “It is a question that’s on the minds of plenty of tech-obsessed folks. But it’s one that’s very hard to answer–especially if you’re trying to be objective rather than grasping for evidence that conveniently supports the mobile operating system you happen to be rooting for.” However, a quick research on the Internet brought up some very interesting facts.

Before we proceed, I would make one fact very clear; No matter what platform you choose, smartphone users are consuming more and more data, and there is no sign of that trend stopping. Smartphones will continue to use a lot of data, it’s a fact of life.

However, the general consensus so far is that the Blackberry is probably (one of) the most data friendly platform out there. Beginning with the first devices RIM produced, data compression was part of the design. Called DataSmart Technology, it works a lot like zipping large files on your computer. When you use data on a BlackBerry smartphone, it’s almost as if the data is zipped up before it’s sent or received so it is smaller.

On the flip side, whether the quality of their devices compare favourably with devices in the same class that are based on Android and iOS platforms or their relatively high price tag is a subject of discourse for another day.

That said, so how do Android and iOS compare in terms of data consumption?

Analyzing the underlying differences between Apple’s iOS and Android would give us a better understanding of how their apps’ data consumption model work. The Onavo website captured this adequately:

Each OS was designed and implemented in light of a unique product philosophy, affecting both the user and the developer experience.

iOS: Apple iOS adopted the user-driven data consumption model, which means that at any given time, mobile data is only used (with very few exceptions) by the app you, the user, are actually looking at.

Android: With Android, a more app-driven data consumption model has evolved, meaning that mobile data is (primarily) used whenever apps choose to use it.

There are several reasons why those models are different, here are three:

OS design
The Android OS design makes it far easier for an app to run in the background, giving the opportunity for such an app to use available system resources at any given time, specifically – mobile data. With Apple’s iOS, apps have a much more limited lifecycle and running scope, enabling them to consume data primarily when the user is actually using them. For example: on Android, an app you installed but never use can be eating up your data plan.

“Adult supervision”
In Android, there are no guarantees that an app available on the Market behaves itself, data-wise or at all. This is because there is no review process for Android apps pre-market upload. iOS apps go through a (somewhat) thorough review prior to being uploaded to the App Store, a process which weeds out some irresponsible behavior on their part, including data usage related issues.

Centralized Notification Service
iOS features APNS – Apple Push Notification Service. This allows developers to implement notifications for their apps using a centralized, relatively data-light infrastructure that aggregates multiple apps’ messages, thereby consuming less data. Android does not have an equivalent service (at least not yet), pushing developers to implement such a service for themselves. This often results in repeated network operations which can get data-heavy.

So what does this all mean? Well, if you’re an Android user, it means that there might be a lot more going on on your smartphone than you think: substantial amounts of mobile data are consumed in the background – by apps you didn’t even know were running.

Other secondary factors that may contribute to the data consumption rate of Android, which gives the iOS its advantage:

  • Apple requires apps that are bigger than 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.
  • Another consideration is Android’s better multitasking and differing user interface that allows so much to stay active even though in the background.

Conclusion
It would be nice if Apple allowed its users to see an overview of data consumption on a per-app or activity basis and set data thresholds. While iOS lets you check cellular usage in Settings > General > Usage > Cellular Usage, this is a far cry from understanding your data usage and having the controls to better manage it like it is being done on Android.

Also, there have been a lot of mixed feelings about iOS 5 with the high data usage of some of its apps, in particular that of Siri, iCloud, iMessage and Location Services.

Lastly, to a large extent, data consumption rate on any platform is still a lot dependent on individual users and the choice of apps they play with, and not just a blanket summation of the superiority of data management on any OS platform.

32 comments

  1. datz what makes symbian a faithful OS of it own… Data comsuption can be managed on symbians.
    I wonder what data hungry Window phones will be bcos of their live tiles updating…

  2. Nice piece. So so true…I feel so much data draining from my Android-powered device that sometimes I just wonder what’s going on.

    On average, I use about 3gb of data monthly and it’s always supported by WiFi anytime I’m in the office.

    The only way out right now is to switch off data over network over from time to time. This has helped me managing the high rate of consumption.

    But the question is; how long can I sustain it.

  3. for now, Android gives me what i want. probably i’ll decamp when i see an OS with same or better user experience and less data consumption in future

  4. My thoughts on the subject are similar and nicely summed up in this article, especially below:

    ”Lastly, to a large extent, data consumption rate on any platform is still a lot dependent on individual users and the choice of apps they play with, and not just a blanket summation of the superiority of data management on any OS platform.”

    Thanks Wale (where’s the ‘thumbs up’ smiley when you need it?)

  5. Great, objective post!

    however unlike what a commenter just said , that last paragraph;

    Lastly, to a large extent, data consumption rate on any platform is still a lot dependent on individual users and the choice of apps they play with, and not just a blanket summation of the superiority of data management on any OS platform.

    seems doubtful-strictly based on rampant reports of casual and knowledgeable users in real life (and on the net.).

    An Android phone launches apps / processes in the background, keeps guzzling your data surreptitiously with some apps not even showing up in the list of running tasks. Now, that is inherent INFERIORITY.

    Bottom line- whatever the cause of the data gluttony, u will likely be spending more when you use Android.

    It is really all about opportunity cost., knowledge and wisdom..

    If your data cost is priority, forget Android. Go for, in order, blackberry, symbian and iOS.

    An interesting thought- almost every pre-ice cream Android phone NEEDs a data monitoring / management app.

    If i were a Android Malware writer, which class of apps would i target? The essential app class.

  6. Sorry to burst your bubble Eye.Bee.Kay, but my pre-ICS Android doesn’t have a data monitoring/management app. None of the Android users I know, including family members, have it on their non-ICS phones. The only person I know of who has one on their phone uses it uses it mainly to monitor their wifi useage and not their data bundle (having seen them in action I understand why).

    Not everyone NEEDS it. At the end of the day it comes down to how people use their phones and is an optional app, not mandatory.

  7. @Noni, u are not bursting any bubbles.

    You obviously operate in the right circles -among people who do not HAVE to monitor their data costs. Or- people who usd their phone mostly for decoration. Good company!

    But u miss the point…

    In addition to what i said above, Yomi’s article . (Google, Africa, Data Costs And nailed the whole thing on the head.

    On the desktop PC front, when memory was really expensive, and processor speed was slow, you were distinguished as a Programmer by writing tight codes that make efficient use of RAM, hard disk space.

    The significance of such pictureperfect efficient code eventually paled.

    Similarly, the Architects of Android did not have data efficiency in mind when designing Android. In their clime, data is cheap and available, so why be efficient in its consumption?

    I especially like how Mr Mobility put this…

    ‘It is a real issue for hundreds of millions of Africans. They earn $2 or N320 or less per day! Think about that. It is why I write about it. It is why I offer tips to manage it. It is also why I must offer alternatives’

    Affordability apart, why join NATURE in being so wasteful?

  8. For what it’s worth, ICS has improved the data consumption on my phone. Pre-ICS I’d notice my phone guzzling data as I slept, no doubt due to some rogue app or the other. However the actual consumption when I’m not actively using the phone has been minimized, and I haven’t had to uninstall any of my pre-ICS apps.

  9. decent article. Google does have a push notification system though. Cloud to device messaging (c2dm) framework. unless ios though, developers have a choice of not using it.

  10. Eye.Bee.Kay – your statement was, and I quote:

    ”An interesting thought- almost every pre-ice cream Android phone NEEDs a data monitoring / management app.”

    That is a generalisation and not true for all. Far be it for me to carry the cross for an entire continent because someone, God forbid, wants to buy an Android phone. If they can afford it, it’s THEIR CHOICE. The same is so for those who buy gas guzzling cars; if they can afford it, it’s not for me to tell them not to even if I believe it’s a waste of money – unless they ask for my personal opinion.

    It’s simply about cutting your cloth to suit. Neither Android or iOS phones are going to make it big for the average African in the near future. Those who go that route should shine their eyes, simple.

    As for your statement:

    ”Affordability apart, why join NATURE in being so wasteful?”

    is a loaded question in a country where we’re not renowned for our care for nature. So why begrudge those who want to ‘waste’ money on their data bundle?

  11. Good piece. Quite informative. I cant say much about IOS but for android, I know a thing or two.

    Most compelling of the arguements is that of backgroung data access.True, there are apps that run in the background and uses data. What wasn’t mentioned in the above is the option in android to either enable or disable this. That puts the user in control. If you dont want your apps running in the background to have access to data just unchecked the background data box. That’s all. As a matter of fact, there is a notification that says unchecking the box will save both data and battery.

    I have seen the notification system of IOS. Its a window that pushes beyond the lock screen. Compared to the notification bar of android where all notifications are represented, seems to me that of IOS would require more data. I may be wrong though.

    In the piece by Yomi on “google, Africa & data cost”, its clear that data guzzling smartphones are not desirable. We all hope to have OSs that can better manage our very expensive and inadequate data. If today I discover such OS and that will give ME the same experience I have on the android OS, I will jump ship.

  12. I will also like to add here that this statement “data consumption rate on any platform is still a lot dependent on individual users and the choice of apps they play with” determines 99% of data plan usage. At a point in time I was consuming 5gig per month on my phone. On the same phone I have consumed less that 250mb per month. Its user determined.

    I am waiting for the official sgs2 ICS next month to start enjoying better data mgt. I know pre ICS devices can get this done with apps. The titanium back-up app can even be used to freeze out apps completely. I don’t have need for the apps really, just like Noni.

  13. Its indeed baffling to see some persons (a la eyebeekay) take their anti-android crusade overboard. Mobile OS adoption like everything else in life bothers on choice! Hence, its becoming a boring to hear the same broken song about android adopters burning their dough on a data guzzling platform. Bottomline, its their choice!
    Let everyone stick with what works for them…e jor o!

  14. veritas1506:

    Veritas means TRUTH.

    the baffling thing IS why hearing d truth (about Android.s gluttony) BOREs you.

    Maybe u need to chancge ur name to something more appropriate..?

    Getting bored with d TRUTH can not change the truth, u know…

  15. @Eye.Bee.Kay

    the baffling thing IS why hearing d truth ( about Android .s gluttony) BOREs you.

    Maybe u need to chancge ur name to something more appropriate ..?

    Getting bored with d TRUTH can not change the truth, u know …

    For someone who likes hearing the truth, what do you do with it? In this part of the planet, what we do with the dead is bury them.

    Now hear some truth:

    * Symbian is an old boring platform.
    * Symbian is very unintuitive and difficult to learn and use.
    * You do a whole lot of scouting just to get the apps you want for the platform.
    * There are very few option of apps available on the Symbian platform and thus the apps available are of inferior qualities when compared to either Android or iOS.
    Symbian is already declared dead and as such, its woes can only get worse.
    * As a messenger of truth, how about letting the people know the likely fate they would be getting themselves into by adopting an out of fashion ugly platform that has been abandoned by their parent company, ie rejection by app developers and further shrinking of the apps available to it.
    * And finally how about telling yourself the truth that you’ll rather tell others:
    ± That you are fighting a lost battle
    ± Your love for Symbian is not likely going to bring Symbian back to life.
    ± That it would be better to endure the pains of being saddled with a Symbian device at this age than luring your friends into it out of mischief.

    Messenger of truth, now go ahead and accept and deal with the truth.

  16. Those ramblings above are tangential to the issue at hand…Android GUZZLES data. Truth!

    More rabid FANboys have quit the Ostrich Club and embraced the TRUTH. Even while asserting their readiness to .suffer n SMILE’!

    WHO says there is anything wrong in being an Ostrich- anyway?

    I will not bother to dispute ANy of your tiresome and BORING postulation about Symbian above. You know why?

    .
    .
    .
    You do not address an issue by leaving that issue to address another!

    I say, ‘your car is fuel INefficient’. You respond by saying yours is more cutting edge. What is the correlation? And does your response invalidate my assertion, ? Come-where is the LOGIC?

  17. A moment ago, you were preachifying someone for saying that truth is boring and you are now doing same thing. Can you see how unqualified you are to talk about truth?

    I say, ‘your car is fuel INefficient’ . You respond by saying yours is more cutting edge . What is the correlation ? And does your response invalidate my assertion, ? Come – where is the LOGIC?

    You said Android guzzles data and offered Symbian as an alternative and I reminded you that Symbian is dead among other ills and as such should be buried and forgotten about and never be mentioned as an alternative at all and you refused to see logic in it.

    The typical Symbian fanboy. You probably think logic starts and ends with you. You think you are going to show us the way to the world. My friend, you are leaving some 10 years behind the Android crowd and you are in no way qualified to show us the way. We can’t go back to yesterday. Enjoy the past as much as you like but we are living the present and projecting for the future.

  18. @eye.bee.Kay, you say android guzzles data. That is your opinion. It’s a relative issue and depends on the user. Some have made us believe here that symbian is far more data efficient and to me that is false. When I was browsing with the E7 yesterday for like 30mins I never expected it to have gulped a whole 6mb off my data.
    Going by symbian fans here I shouldn’t have exhausted up to 2mb.

  19. @Harry & The Gang…

    Let me state, for the umpteenth time, my position on the Android vs Symbian controversy.

    Android is said to have a better UX, out of the box. Granted. Android is touted to have eons of applications on the Market. Most of which are free, Good. I LOVE well_made apps.

    Symbian is destined for the graveyard, PRIMARILY because the owners have decided to kill it. All good.

    But all these do NOTHING to detract from the fact that Android is not perfect. Symbian needs apps to address weaknesses [like the Interface, lack of inbuilt Wifi HotSpot, etc], Android too has several shortcomings. Like consuming too much data. Like being VERY susceptible to malware (due to the open nature, etc) .

    It is up to us as (knowledgeable / ignorant) users to determine what is important to us. Which shortcomings we can tolerate. Which we can NOT.

    For me, I ABHOR waste. So the need for perpetual data management (on pre-ICS) Android is a dealbreaker. I would rather have a rustic resource_efficient Symbian. Even if it is on its last legs. Right until it dies. You may feel otherwise.

    The so_called superior Android UX is easily achievable by third_party apps. I actually think it is hypocritical to oppose using thirdparty apps to address UX deficiency in Symbian, and simultaneously laud the availability of apps to customize practically any portion of Android.

    Conclusively, we are just stating points of view. Nobody is forcing / can force any point of view on anybody. It is all about presenting those points of view unequivocally, unemotionally, clearly and sometimes – forcefully.

    To the Android herd >>> sheath your swords. We have agreed to disagree on which OS is more functional!

  20. It also does its software updates over a wired connection via iTunes

    For educational purposes, This statement Ladies and Gentlemen is wrong. Thanks to IOS 5, we now have software updates via the phones Wifi.

    Now going back to the topic.

    To be honest, it wouldnt be right to declare a winner when comparing both platforms with regards to data consumption. this is because there are many factors to consider when making a conclusion which includes THE USERS USAGE.

    The iphone or ios use to have a bad data problem,thanks to its default browser (SAFARI) which is a desktop browser. therefore by default, it would only take you to desktop sites. Thankfully, we have other browsers in form of apps at the appstore to help counter that problem. Apart from that issue, IOS is pretty much controlled when it comes to data management. all you have to do as a USER is to go to settings and disable the notifications, BOOM, problem solved.

    The android platform on the other hand is a free for all thingy. Yep!!! thats what you get when your software is open source. From the setting up of your phone, you are told to set up or sign in to your gmail account. Then your emails, calendars etc gets synced to your phone. God help you if you have alot of emails. Imagine that 50mb data you have be caressing for a while vanishes like that. I am not trying to be biased here but if something is good, i will praise it and will do otherwise if its bad. i feel that i am going to end up writing an article instead of a comment so imma stop here…

    Cheers

  21. @Sam:

    The iphone or ios use to have a bad data problem, thanks to its default browser (SAFARI) which is a desktop browser. therefore by default, it would only take you to desktop sites. Thankfully, we have other browsers in form of apps at the appstore to help counter that problem . Apart from that issue, IOS is pretty much controlled when it comes to data management. all you have to do as a USER is to go to settings and disable the notifications, BOOM, problem solved.

    The android platform on the other hand is a free for all thingy. Yep!!! thats what you get when your software is open source. From the setting up of your phone, you are told to set up or sign in to your gmail account. Then your emails, calendars etc gets synced to your phone. God help you if you have alot of emails. Imagine that 50mb data you have be caressing for a while vanishes like that. I am not trying to be biased here but if something is good, i will praise it and will do otherwise if its bad. i feel that i am going to end up writing an article instead of a comment so imma stop here…

    You said you are not trying to be biased but from your comment, it is either you are doing your best to be biased or you know very little of what you are talking about.

    You said you can go to settings on iOS and disable notification and problem is solved but you didn’t know that you can also go to settings on Android and disable background data syncing and problem would be solved.

    When writing your article, it would do you well to dwell on matters you are very conversant with rather than making false claims. If you have never used Android and feel like writing something on Android, go ahead but first research on what you intend writing on.

    Cheers!

  22. Oh dear Eye.Bee.Kay:

    ”We have agreed to disagree on which OS is more functional!”

    I thought Wale’s article was about Android vs iOS data consumption rather than functionality? If we’re talking the latter, then both iOS and Android trump Symbian.

  23. You said you are not trying to be biased but from your comment, it is either you are doing your best to be biased or you know very little of what you are talking about.

    You said you can go to settings on iOS and disable notification and problem is solved but you didn’t know that you can also go to settings on Android and disable background data syncing and problem would be solved.

    When writing your article, it would do you well to dwell on matters you are very conversant with rather than making false claims. If you have never used Android and feel like writing something on Android, go ahead but first research on what you intend writing on.

    clap for yourself. you sure do know what your talking about.

    I see you are an android fanboy or is it man now? so let me

    educate you on platform. Android 1.6 Donut, when setting up your phone for

    the first time, when ask to sign into your gmail account and you put in all

    the details, you honesty believe it would wait for you to get to the option

    of de syncing gmail with yur phone before that free 50mb vanishes into non

    existence?? just stay clear of my android fanboy. do not broadcast your

    limited knowledge on here

    cheers

  24. @Noni, So- EXCESSIVE data consumption does not affect functionality?

    FUNCTIONAL..
    PRACTICAL, useful, utilitarian, utility, workaday, serviceable; minimalist

  25. You guys are forget the primary difference between Android and iOS.

    1. Android is about FREEDOM and Google assumes users have some sort of common sense to properly control their phones. Google doesn’t “baby sit” people like Apple does.

    2. Android was primarily designed for markets that buy cell phone contracts and can get unlimited data plans. For example, most smartphone users in the US pay for unlimited data plans. So, Android running data in the background makes no difference. Most Android phones are imported from the US. Also, you can turn OFF background data for people who don’t have such features, like the wireless providers here in Nigeria. Also to mention, Android links all of your accounts into one device, it will sync as often as you let it – again you can control how often.

    1. just knowledge,

      Android was primarily designed for markets that buy cell phone contracts and can get unlimited data plans

      The above is not – and cannot be – a primary difference between Android and iOS. Both were designed for unlimited data markets.

  26. @sam says, come oooonn…you sure do know that doesnt come into play here. We are not talking about data usage while setting up your phone. Its daily data usage that we are discussing here. When you have a new phone and want to set it up, you will definitely need more data than usual for all the smartphones. Email, facebook, twitter e.t.c set ups, all will be using some measure of data. And why refer to android 1.6 (donut) ? You know you dont have to do that from 2.2 and above(over 95% of androids). 1.6 is insignificant here.

  27. @sam says, come oooonn…you sure do know that doesnt come into play here. We are not talking about data usage while setting up your phone. Its daily data usage that we are discussing here. When you have a new phone and want to set it up, you will definitely need more data than usual for all the smartphones. Email, facebook, twitter e.t.c set ups, all will be using some measure of data. And why refer to android 1.6 (donut) ? You know you dont have to do that from 2.2 and above(over 95% of androids). 1.6 is insignificant here.

    @ Belushi

    I get your point. but even with ICS, The problem of data consumption is still in existence. This is becos they are lots and lots of bad applications on the android market that do nasty things to ones phone. i mean it bad enough that one has to deal with bad battery management and now its data??

    Dogg, let me tell you what is truly going on here with regards to the android data consumption saga.

    like i said earlier, they are lots and lots of bad apps onn the market and the android OS is unable to keep those apps in check. I really dont know if google have app making standards for its developers. maybe they do, maybe they dont but they really need to put their house in order and put strict standards just like apple.

    i rest my case!!!!

    cheers

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