As some of you may know, for the past couple years, I had been an Android user, absolutely refusing to upgrade to the iPhone. Why? It wasn’t because of pure hatred of iOS or its applications, but because I wasn’t so sure about whether I really wanted the iPhone. Sure, a lot of people have told me that if I wanted to sample the latest applications that are out on the market, then I needed to be able to be on the iPhone. I suppose that I thought I’d be able to temporarily supplant that need simply by using an iPad, but eventually I gave in and went with the iPhone. But it wasn’t a smooth of transition as one might expect.
The last Android device that I had was the HTC Thunderbolt, which was on Verizon’s 4G network and I really liked. It was somewhat big in size and took some getting used to, but I liked downloading the different apps and was even happier when “new” apps came to Google Play, after spending months or years being available in the Apple store. Nevertheless, I had been experiencing some signal and data issues on my Thunderbolt recently and after being instructed to do a factory reset in the hope that it would resolve the issue (which it didn’t), I was told that I could either have Verizon send me a new Thunderbolt and still be month-to-month on my plan or renew for another two years. Now, normally this wouldn’t be something to write about…I mean, why would you care about my data plan? Well, turns out that because Verizon recently updated their data plans and no longer have unlimited data, I was in a bit of a pickle. You see, it turns out that I’m one of the above-average data users–each month, I’m averaging about 3 GB of data being used. So if I rolled over to Verizon’s new plans, I would be paying a bit more than what I’m currently doing now.
And that’s when I got to thinking…why is it that I’m subject to these issues? It’s because of the videos that I’m watching on applications like YouTube, posting on SocialCam, photos shared on Path and Instagram, games being played through Words With Friends, and much more. With the proliferation of applications across the mobile marketplace, people are downloading them at a startling rate! We’ve seen reports of the Apple store surpassing 25 billion downloads and Google Play has already exceeded 15 billion downloads. So there are people that definitely want to be checking out new services on their smartphone–whether it’s for entertainment, gaming, productivity, work/professional, or just for social needs, there’s at least one app to help you do what you want. But if it’s going to be sending data to the Cloud or to another service on the World Wide Web, then you are going to be using up some of that precious data bandwidth that you’re so dearly paying for.
Sure, there are some apps that don’t hurt you as much on the data, but make sure you don’t discount social as a big contributor to that. With the explosion of services like Yammer, Facebook, Instagram, SocialCam, Twitter, Foursquare, etc. and the increasing usage by their customers, more and more will people be forced to choose their priorities. In an ABI Research report in 2010, it was noted by senior analyst Mark Beccue, that “App stores aren’t going away: following the 2013 peak in demand, the number of downloads in 2015 will have decreased only seven or eight percent. But as our use of the mobile Internet evolves, demand will increasingly shift elsewhere.” And where will this demand shift in the next few years? To social networks, quite honestly, and other data-driven services. Nielsen reports that just in the US, the most popular categories for apps include games, news, maps, social network, and music.
With the proliferation of social apps and this emerging trend that has people wanting to share, the main barrier to data freedom is the carriers, themselves. More and more, we’re seeing services like Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile begin to strip away the unlimited data plans because of the strain it causes on their servers. Hell, even one of Apple’s most-touted applications is a culprit and caused some friction with the carriers. AT&T will be eventually losing their unlimited data plans by August so the two major carriers with the Apple iPhone will be somewhat punishing smartphone users.
Now, not everyone uses a lot of data and I might just be a power user who loves to share photos and videos through Path, Instagram, the “occasional” tweet, and status updates elsewhere, but I think that the one conundrum that we’re encountering here is that people are being forced to choose. People, or rather consumers, are being given an ultimatum whereby we’re being told that, sure we’re allowed to download the latest and hot application, but be aware that it could potentially suck up the remaining data limit you have per month before you’re either (a) subject to data throttling, and/or (b) forced to pay an exorbitant amount of money for data overage. We’re stuck in the middle and everyone has the right to build their own application and do what they want–there’s clearly no definitive answer to this predicament, but it’s something that everyone will eventually have to worry about.
Being told that a carrier has “unlimited data” is no longer a reality. Long before the mass production of smartphones and the introduction of the iPhone, carriers didn’t really care about people sucking up the data. Unfortunately now, with the masses flocking to these things and absorbing it faster than anything they’ve expected, it’s causing everyone a lot of headaches. One might wonder whether the world will start to slowly ween itself of the addiction to downloading applications to their phone. I’m sure that in the future, the unlimited data cap will return, but until then, we’re looking at more bottlenecks and friction in this issue. Hopefully things pick up soon and the carriers realize that stifling the bandwidth isn’t going to be good for anyone–more innovation and better technology will help move us forward.
The data tells us so.
- A screen on a smartphone showing a text message to an AT&T customer, in New York via AP Photo/Mark Lenin
- Applications and the Apple iPhone via Demonsys.com
- Choices via MobileGovWiki.com