17 February 2014

Chrome’s ‘Reduce Data Usage’ has little effect for regular users

In version 32, Chrome for iOS introduced ‘Reduce Data Usage’, a new feature claiming to reduce your data usage by up to 50%. Chrome is in no way the first to offer data compression – Opera had this for years in both the mobile and desktop versions – and, of course, the savings only apply to browsing done via Chrome, so the overall effect on the data usage should be rather small. Since iOS 7 keeps track of your cellular traffic (you can find this under Settings > Cellular), I did a quick check to see how much data would this feature save for me. I’m not necessarily a representative user and I don’t use mobile Chrome very often, for reasons I have already talked about on the blog, so I expected the actual number to be pretty small.

Chrome for iOS stats about cellular trafficAs it turns out, from the 1.5 GB of data iOS says I consumed over the current period (probably since last OS update, I’m not sure when it resets this counter), Chrome traffic makes out only about 1.4%. As default browser, Safari used around 8.5% of cellular traffic, so even combined they barely add up to 10% of total traffic.

So what about the rest? Most of it was generated by the various apps installed on the device – nearly three quarters – while the rest, about 17%, originated from system services, things like Exchange accounts, push notifications and iCloud syncing. The result is not surprising given how I personally use my smartphone, and it reflects an overall mobile trend to move away from browsing and web apps towards native apps. A couple apps surpassed both Chrome and Safari on their own, mainly Facebook and Twitter – I usually open Flipboard and Flickr only when I’m connected to Wi-Fi, so they wouldn’t show up here, and my current RSS app, Reeder, sits there untouched for weeks because I just don’t like using it. Interesting to note, Quora used up more than 100 MB, almost as much as Safari, which is a lot since I open it rarely only to check notifications – it’s a good candidate to be restricted from accessing cellular data in the future. Even if the new Chrome feature lives up to its claims, it won’t make much of a difference because most of the traffic has migrated away from the browser to apps. Data compression directly from the cellular company would make much more sense, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon…

Update: A recent study from mobile analytics company Flurry on US consumers confirms this trend: Flurry Analytics: Time spent on iOS and Android connected devices

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