I have mixed feelings about iOS 5, and I could probably write another article based on my meandering anecdotal experiences with Apple’s latest mobile OS, but this one is about the data usage, and in particular that of iCloud, iMessage and Location Services.
iCloud is enchanting, and maybe one day when I can afford an unlimited data plan, I can fully enjoy its wonders, but for now I’d like to share my experience — a cautionary tale perhaps — to give you an idea of what you can expect should you choose to ascend into the cloud.
I have a modest 300MB data bundle which I’ve been using with my iPhone 4, for almost a year now. Although I have strayed over the limit at times, I have never extravagantly done so. In most cases when I have used more than my allotment, I did so consciously. When my data bundle is depleted, my flexible voice plan allows me to further convert talk time into data — albeit at out of bundle rates — and has always been a stalwart buffer in cases where I splurged on a YouTube video or couldn’t wait to download an app over WiFi.
I had a handle on things until October 12th, at which point I installed iOS 5.
At the end of October I was billed an extra data charge of R264.48 ($32.90). Using the relevant out of bundle rate for my service provider, I calculated that I had used approximately 530MB of data, beyond my allotment, in 15 days. In other words, in 15 days I had used more data than I usually do in an entire month.
My iCloud settings were decidedly modest. I had enabled Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, Bookmarks and Find My iPhone. My Documents & Data setting was enabled, but the option to “Use Cellular” was disabled. I also switched off Photostream — the biggest data hog in my mind –, Mail and Notes.
On the 27th — the start of my billing cycle — my data bundle was automatically reset as usual. In the name of science, I left my iCloud settings unchanged and watched as my data usage rocketed to 225MB, 6 days later.
At this point, it was clear that it would be costly to remain part of Apple’s next evolution. At this rate I would end up using more than 1GB for the month of November. Googling I found numerous other iOS 5 users coming to the same conclusion.
I started by gradually switching off all iCloud functionality except Find My iPhone. Sadly, the data carnage continued. At one point I noticed that my phone used 7MB in one hour, even though I had left it alone completely during that period.
It wasn’t until I deleted my iCloud account that things started returning to normal.
My Location Services settings were still the same as they were on iOS 4, but I was on a roll, so I fine tuned location services for apps, as well as System Services which now only have “Cell Network Search” and “Compass Calibration” enabled.
I also did some tests on iMessage and found that it used 2KB to send my test message “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”, while Whatsapp used only 1KB. It seems iMessage uses twice as much data as the new “messaging titan”. In the end I disabled iMessage altogether by going into Settings > Messages > iMessage.
In my experience, it seems that you’d need at least a 2GB data bundle to fully enjoy all the benefits of iOS 5′s new iCloud, iMessage and Location Services. Maybe I’m completely wrong, and there’s some kind of settings sweet spot I’ve yet to discover, but things got pretty wild for a moment there.
Sans iCloud, things are now seemingly back to normal, even my phone’s battery life has improved, and yet, I find myself dreaming about upgrading to a new data package; or moving to another country.