iPhone, Android Mobile User Data Blasts Off, Windows Phone 7 Catching Up

According to a new report by Nielsen out today, average U.S. smartphone data usage is up by 89% in the last 12 months.

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With bandwidth-heavy streaming apps such as Netflix, HBO Go, and Pandora out on the market, users are consuming more data than ever before on their smartphones. According to a new report by Nielsen out today, average U.S. smartphone data usage is up by 89% in the last 12 months.

For carriers, as the report indicates, that could have huge implications: How will Verizon, AT&T, and others be able to keep up with this explosion of data usage, especially as the number of smartphone users continues to rise dramatically? But the report also gives insight into the use of individual smartphone OS’s beyond bland and redundant market share studies: How do Android and Apple’s iOS stack up when it comes to data usage?

Overall in the past year, the amount of data the average smartphone user consumes rocketed from 230 megabytes per month to 435 megabytes per month. Broken down by OS, Android takes the crown for most data consumed: Android users average 582MB per month, whereas iPhone users average just 492MB. The growth “is clearly being driven by app-friendly operating systems like Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android,” wrote Nielsen’s Don Kellogg in the report. Given that Apple boasts thousands of more apps than are available for Android, one would think iPhone users would consume more data, but Nielsen says despite the number of apps, Android users are dialing up the web far more–nearly 7 gigabytes of bandwidth per year per user.

Also rocketing up the ranks is Windows Phone 7, the oft-overlooked OS that trails its competitors in market share by miles. Yet when it comes to data usage, Windows Phone 7 users are fierce: Data usage has grown from 149MB per month to 317MB in the short span it’s been available. “Windows Phone 7 users doubled their usage over the past two quarters, perhaps due to growth in the number of applications available,” said Kellogg.

(On the low end of the totem pole is RIM, whose BlackBerry OS does not offer many of the capabilities of its smartphone competitors. The web on a BlackBerry looks like every page has been designed by Matt Drudge–that is, lots of blue links, and very low bandwidth.)


The more data used across all these platforms, the more weight and pressure it puts on carriers, who are tasked with supporting the consumption. “Even as data usage has almost doubled, most users are paying around what they did a year ago for data,” the report says–the cost per megabyte for the average user has plummeted by nearly 50% in the past year, from 14 cents to 8 cents per megabyte.

With tons of new iPhone users paying as little as $30 per month for unlimited data plans, it’s like such inexpensive plans are unsustainable as the amount of data and number of users continues to balloon.

[Image: Flickr user Foqus]


About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.