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:
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.
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.
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.