With 4G networks becoming ubiquitous in the civilized world, everyone's worried about how much data they're using and what they can do to reduce their data usage. Even if you opt for some sort of "unlimited" plan, chances are you'll have a data cap that, if exceeded, will result in your data speeds being reduced to 3G or even 2G.
Nobody wants to see their data speed getting throttled, and if you don't have an unlimited plan, you definitely don't want your data allocation being completely exceeded. To make matters worse, you don't even have to be doing anything on your phone for the data to be slowly draining in the background. Both Android and iOS have certain features and apps that collect and transmit data in the background when the phone is not in use.
So, the big question is: which mobile operating system uses more data when both are being used exactly the same way? Well, the answer to that question is a bit more complicated than you might expect. In this guide, we'll cover all the basic aspects of the data usage debate to help you decide which OS would best suit your needs.
The Apps You Use and How You Use Your Phone Matter the Most
Before we get into the facts, it's important to note that your overall data usage will be mostly impacted by the apps that you use and the way you configure your phone's settings. Apps that are media intensive will consume the most data. It's easy to see which apps are using your data in both Android and iOS, so transparency is not an issue. Apps related to social networking, video, and music typically consume the most data, although games can have a significant impact as well.
However, even within a single app there can be a wide range of activities that will impact your data usage in different ways. For example, many mobile compatible casinos may contain a Live Casino feature that continually streams audio and video to your device. Obviously, using this feature in the app would consume the most data.
Conducting a side-by-side comparison for Android and iOS is not fully possible because the two devices will never be running the exact same apps. However, at face value many would say that Android uses more data by default because of the number of Google services that collect data in the background.
Why Does Android Consume So Much Background Data?
When it comes to background data usage, Android tends to have more built-in data-consuming features. This is because Android is connected to a lot of Google services such as the Google Play Store and Gmail. Much of this activity can be limited or eliminated by restricting background data usage and turning off Sync in your Settings. The amount of data that an Android phone uses while it's not in use is not astronomical, but it's measurably higher than the background data used in iOS.
Because of the amount of data being stored and shared between apps, cached data can affect the performance of Android more than iOS. However, a full cache and numerous data-consuming services shouldn't be a problem on any recent model Android device that's connected to a 4G network with reasonable reception. Thus, if you're comparing new or high-end flagship devices, there's really no need to worry about background data usage affecting the performance of your device.
Does Google's Data Collection Provide a Fair Trade-off?
While Google indisputably collects more data from its users than Apple, one could argue that this is a perk for Android users because the functionality between apps and services tends to be more streamlined. After all, Google can only do what it does because of data collection, so in a way we've all made the Big G what it is by letting it gradually collect useful bits of information about our app usage and personal details.
So, is Google overstepping its boundaries by collecting so much data to improve its services? Or, is the flow of data from your device a small price to pay in comparison to the experience that Google services provide? The answer to that depends on whether you enjoy using Android more than iOS. If so, then no trivial amount of background data should stop you from using the OS that you like the most.
iPhone Users Consume More Non-Background Data
So, why are so many people saying that iPhones use more data than Android phones? Well, as we stated earlier, the data usage debate isn't so cut and dry. Research shows that iPhone users use the apps they download more than Android users.
Increased app usage alone makes the average iOS user more likely to use more data than the average Android user. Also, since there are many low-end model Androids that don't have high media specifications, the average iPhone uses more data than the average Android because a large portion of low-end Android users can't afford the extra data usage.
iPhone Apps are Bigger and There are More of Them
Apps made for iOS tend to have more animations and other aesthetic features, which drives up the size per app. Of course, with larger apps comes more data usage. Research shows that iPhone users tend to engage with and use the apps they download more than Android users.
Does this mean that iOS apps are downright better, or is it merely a reflection of the fact that the Apple App Store now has almost 250,000 apps while the Google Play Store has less than 100,000? Plus, the average file size for each app is larger in iOS, so that can certainly drive up data usage.
In short, Android depends largely on its built-in functionality, so that winds up consuming quite a bit of data, whereas iOS relies more so on its plethora of third-party apps, so that's how most iPhone users use their data. So, which is worse? Higher background data usage or higher forefront data usage? In terms, of sheer data volume, whatever actions the user is taking within an app will always consume more data than a background service that is collecting or syncing data.
Third-Party Apps Use About the Same Data on Both Android and iOS
Regardless of which OS you choose, if you're using the same app on both of them, the data usage will be about the same. For example, let's say you're using the official Facebook app. Actively scrolling your feed, posting content, and performing other basic tasks in the app will consume about 1.5 MB per minute, while watching video in the app uses about 2.6 MB per minute, whether you use Android or iOS.
However, there are some slight data usage differences between the native apps in Android and iOS. For example, Google Maps is known to use less data than Apple Maps for active navigation, although both use almost nothing – roughly 0.67 MB every ten miles.
Why Are There Conflicting Opinions About Which OS Uses More Data?
As you can see, in some ways Android uses more data while in other ways iOS is the data consumption king. This results in conflicting opinions on the matter, but when you break it down by usage category (i.e. background, syncing, app-based, etc.), the comparison becomes easier to understand.
Then there's the fact that users of both mobile operating systems are very biased towards their favourite OS. If you ask an iPhone user, he'll tell you that Android uses more data. If you ask an Android user, he'll tell you that iPhones use more data. So which one is right?
Well, as it turns out, neither of them are completely right or wrong. An Android in its default state will drain slightly more data in the background, but when user activities are taken into account, the average iPhone user actually consumes more data.
How Much Does Background Data Collection Influence Data Usage?
So, when nobody is using the phone, Android uses more data. But does that really matter? How much data are we talking about here? Let's put it this way, background data collection usually accounts for such a small percentage of your monthly data usage that it's highly unlikely that it would be the sole factor that pushes you over the limit.
It's also unlikely that two different users – one with Android and the other with iOS – with the same mobile activity would reach their data limits more than a couple hours apart. In other words, if you're on Android doing the exact same thing your buddy is doing on an iPhone, your data usage should still be within 500 MB of one another. Also, you can just use alerts to notify you when you're approaching your data limit, so it becomes somewhat of a non-issue in terms of affecting the quality of your device's performance.
Tips for Limiting Your Data Usage in Android
When it comes to limiting data usage in Android, there are a few steps you can take. First, you'll need to keep an eye on your daily data usage. You can see this information in the Settings > Network & Internet > Data Usage menu. This is also the same menu where you can enable the option called "Restrict App Background Data," but you'll have to do this for each app individually.
In the Data Usage menu settings, you'll find the option to set up a warning or a limit. The warning will give you a notification when you start to approach your limit, whereas the limit will completely disable your data until you re-enable it.
It also helps to go to Settings > Accounts > Automatically sync data and turn that option off. You can still sync manually for each account in the Accounts settings menu. Finally, a quick and easy way to use less data is to go to Settings > Network & Internet > Data Usage > Data Saver and turn the data saver mode on.
Tips for Limiting Your Data Usage in iOS
There are a number of steps you can take to reduce your data usage in iOS as well. Start by turning off data for iCloud. Open up the iCloud app, scroll to the bottom, and disable the feature called "use cellular data." You should disable automatic downloads by going to Settings > Apps > iTunes and then disabling the "use cellular data" option. You may also want to disable Wi-Fi Assist mode.
You can see which apps are using the most data and disable them by going to Settings > Cellular and viewing the list of apps alongside their data usage. If you see an app that's using a lot of data and you don't need it to be running, you can easily disable it from this menu.
Should Data Usage Be a Factor in Your Android vs iPhone Comparison?
Ultimately, the amount of data that trickles out of your phone in the background really shouldn't be the determining factor when you're comparing Android to iOS. Instead, you should be focused on which user experience you like the most. If you're really on a tight data budget to the point of data limitations influencing the decision of which phone you'll buy, then you'd be better off practising the data-saving tips for Android and iOS listed above.
Beyond taking steps to restrict and limit your data usage, it doesn't really make sense to spend your time worrying about which OS is drip-feeding more data. If you find yourself regularly exceeding your plan's data limits, it may be better to upgrade your data cap to a higher data mount or an unlimited plan rather than worrying about which operating system your phone is using.
According to smartphone user surveys, most people would not switch from Android to iOS or vice versa based solely on data usage. This proves that most consumers care about features and performance more than the concern of having to top up their data unexpectedly.