Feature Article

January 15, 2013

Do Smartphones Really Consume More Data than Tablets?

Users of a number of smartphone device models now consistently consume more mobile data than tablet users using the mobile networks, a study by Arieso suggests. That would come as a surprise, since smartphone users typically consume more data on their tablets than their smartphones.

The findings should not be so surprising. For starters, most consumers already have figured out that it makes sense to switch their smartphones to Wi-Fi, whenever it is possible. And perhaps 90 percent of all tablets are Wi-Fi-only, so tablet usage actually would not show up on a mobile service provider’s usage logs, in any case.

Given that tablet users generally rely on Wi-Fi connections, most tablet data consumption would show up on a fixed network, not on a mobile network.

That said, some studies suggest that tablets do consume more data than smartphones, when the smartphones and tablets all use carrier mobile network connections. 

Image via Shutterstock

The other complicating factor is the sheer number of smartphones in use, compared to the number of network-connected tablets. By definition, even if a typical smartphone user consumes less data than a typical tablet user, on any given network, the sheer numbers of smartphones in use would skew consumption figures in the smartphone direction.

All that noted, the Arieso study suggests that Apple iPhone 5 users are the “hungriest” data consumers, consuming 50 percent more than iPhone 4S users and four times as much as iPhone 3G users.

That said, the study also shows the highly-skewed pattern of consumption: 40 percent of all data is consumed by one percent of users.

Still, looking only at mobile service provider data, smartphone users have overtaken tablet users in consumption of mobile data for the first time since Arieso began tracking such usage, said Arieso  CTO, Dr. Michael Flanagan.

Out of the top 10 devices (excluding dongles) showing the highest consumption rates, six were smartphones, three tablets and one a ‘phablet’. Tablet models with heavy consumption were fourth, eighth and ninth in terms of usage.

“This is pretty counterintuitive, but it seems the capabilities of the newest smart phones – not tablets - are unleashing even greater user demand,” said Flanagan.

“Regardless of device type and operating system, there is very little variation in the usage ‘signature’ between smart phone users and between tablet users,” he said.

The study should not be taken as clear evidence that a typical smartphone user consumes as much data, or more data, than a tablet user. That might be the case, but we cannot be so sure unless we can correlate all tablet consumption, including both mobile and Wi-Fi (fixed network) consumption.

The other issue is the sheer number of devices in use and the amount of time each type of device gets used. There simply are many more smartphones being used, and smartphones are “always” with a user, compared to tablets.

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