A Closer Look at App Data Consumption

The number of mobile users around the world is growing, and people increasingly rely on apps to carry out their daily tasks, or kill time in between. But app usage comes with a price tag that includes data consumption costs. As users navigate through app updates, new devices, and carrier data plan changes, they must balance the benefits of using their favorite apps with the cost of data. Over time these individual consumer decisions, in turn, affect phone manufacturing, app development, and mobile network operations. Mindful of these dynamics, we at 7Park Data recently published Apps Driving Mobile Data Consumption report, which phone manufacturers and carriers can use to identify the best apps in the long run and forge strategic partnerships. In our previous post on the topic, we briefly discussed global trends in data usage. Now let’s take a closer look at the top apps driving data consumption.

According to our report, as of June 2016, the overall ratio of WiFi to carrier data usage among Android users globally was about five to one.

When looking at the top 25 apps in the world, we found that WiFi to carrier data usage ratio varied between 3:1 and 5:1 across the most data-hungry apps.Google Maps was the outlier on the list, with almost half of its total data used over carrier. Facebook app (#2 on the total data usage list), on the other hand, stayed closer to the typical 5:1 ratio with 82% of its total data spent over WiFi. But, when comparing the actual amount of data spent, we found that total carrier data spent using Google Maps was only 4% of the carrier data spent on Facebook. So, while at first glance it may look like Google Maps is the carrier data-eating monster in the world, when we check the actual data used, that stops being the case.

But what happens when we leave the global stage and look at data consumption in different regions? Well, in the United States, it appears that most of the app data were used over WiFi in the past couple of years. Americans relied on WiFi for 89% of the total data spent watching content on YouTube, which was the top app in terms of total indexed data usage in June 2016. They also streamed content on Netflix using only 7% of the data over carrier. But still, the carrier shares of actual data spent on YouTube and Netflix were much bigger than those of Google Maps or The Weather Channel, each of which had at least 40% of their data used over carrier.

European users shared the US pattern of app data consumption. Considering WhatsApp’s popularity in Europe, it wasn’t surprising to find the app in the top ten for total data usage. The app’s total data usage more than doubled between June 2015 and June 2016. Almost 79% of the app’s data was used over WiFi in June 2016. Exactly a year earlier, users had spent 66% of the WhatsApp data over WiFi. So, as Europeans began to spend more data on WhatsApp, they did so by using WiFi. The same held true for Snapchat and Instagram, albeit with less dramatic increases in their data usage.

In Southeast Asia, one of the most noticeable changes in data consumption between 2015 and 2016 was the rise of Instagram, which ranked #4 in total indexed data usage in the region in 2016, up two places from the previous year. The total indexed data spent on the app more than doubled in a year, but the WiFi to carrier data usage ratio remained the same, with 37% of the data used over carrier. A slightly different picture for WhatsApp, which had its total data usage doubled, but at the expense of WiFi. The app’s carrier data usage was slashed from 44% in 2015 to 24% in 2016. Social networking and messaging apps Line and WeChat made the top 25 in the region with less than a third of their data used over carrier in 2015. This year, even though total data spent on WeChat decreased, the share of data used over carrier increased to 41%. The change could be attributed to the app’s improved compression, which allowed users to spend more in-app time over carrier data without worrying about the cost.

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Ultimately, it seems that no matter how useful or fun the app, if it gobbles up a lot of data, users will continue to rely on WiFi. As far as differences among users around the world, access to WiFi networks, local carrier options, and app compression remain key factors in how individual consumers allocate their monthly (or otherwise limited) mobile data.

How do users in Canada, Russia, or South America compare to the rest of the world? Where in the world do users spend significant amount of mobile data on local apps? Get a free copy of the Apps Driving Mobile Data Consumption report to get the scoop.