An analysis of US and UK smartphone usage shows that iPhones are far more likely to connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi than Android handsets are.
‘Digital marketing intelligence’ provider comScore has crunched the numbers collected by its Device Essentials programme and found significant differences in the way the two main classes of smartphones connect to the Internet.
In the US, just 29 per cent of iPhones are used for browsing only via mobile networks, with the remaining 71 per cent using mobile data and Wi-Fi. But for Android the proportions are reversed with 68 per cent mobile only and 32 per cent mobile and Wi-Fi.
comScore found a similar though weaker relationship in the UK, where only 13 per cent of iPhones use mobile data exclusively, compared with 43 per cent of Android handsets.
Despite being headed “iPhones Have Significantly Higher Rates of Wi-Fi Utilization than Android Phones in the US and UK”, comScore’s press release focuses on the differences between the countries rather than the differences between the platforms. US/UK differences are ascribed to “the scarcity of unlimited data plans [in the UK] and higher incidence of smartphone pre-paid contracts with a pay-as-you-go data model” encouraging users to save money by using Wi-Fi where possible, and the greater availability of high-speed mobile data - LTE and ‘4G’ HSPA (7.2Mbps and up) - in the US.
comScore didn’t disclose figures for other countries, but it seems possible that the Australian situation would be somewhere in between, due to the wide availability of HSPA and the lack of unlimited data plans.
Interestingly, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse has revealed that iPhones on that company’s network “use less data on average than a high-end 4G Android device”, but that doesn’t give any insight regarding the reasons: is it simply related to speed (the faster the link, the more content you get through, and in addition high-bandwidth services such as streaming video become more enjoyable on a fast connection) or is it to do with the nature of the devices or users’ habits?
Analyst firm Yankee Group disputes comScore’s speed argument. “This finding has almost nothing to do with 4G availability, or lack thereof,” observed research vice president Declan Lonergan.
So how do we explain the differences between iPhone and Android usage?
One factor could be that large apps can only be downloaded directly to the iPhone via Wi-Fi (the alternative is to buy them on a Mac or Windows PC and then sync the handset). Similarly, the iPhone’s FaceTime video calling feature only works over Wi-Fi.
And some users claim the default settings on iPhones make it easier - compared with Android - to discover new networks and to automatically reconnect to known networks. I’ll merely report that assertion without passing judgement either way.
Another factor is that the bulk of US iPhones are on AT&T, which has an extensive network of Wi-Fi hotspots available to subscribers, thus increasing the likelihood that an iPhone user in the US will use Wi-Fi.
Lonergan suggests it could be that “iPhone users are more likely to have access to paid-for Wi-Fi services at home and/or at their place of work… with Android users more likely to live in a land-line-free household.” That does provide a reasonable explanation, but it leaves open the question of why that is the case - or even if it is factually correct.
The differences observed by comScore seem too great to ignore. But to explain the difference, maybe we need someone to go out and ask smartphone users where, how and why they use - or don’t use - Wi-Fi.