Mobile apps that use the most data, and how to reduce your usage

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Staying on top of your mobile data usually isn’t something we have in the foreground of our minds every day – the internet is a distracting place, and who has time to worry about data usage? We get carried away posting on Insta, checking our Snapchats and accidentally downloading an entire season of Grey’s Anatomy for the train ride home (one episode would have been enough, in hindsight).

As a result, we can often get a shock when we receive that pesky text from our provider saying we’ve blown our monthly data. You’ve got two options – switch to an unlimited data plan (they can be pricey, and most carriers start to slow down speeds when you reach a certain threshold anyway) or make some changes. But which apps (aka, applications) are using the most data? How do you even reduce your data usage? Canstar Blue finds out.

Which of my apps use the most data?

By now, anyone with a smartphone should have a basic understanding of how apps chew through their data. It doesn’t matter what style, brand or version of phone you have – apps run independently of each other, and use different amounts of data – of course, this is also dependent on your personal usage and what settings you have each app set to (don’t be surprised if you’re Netflix app is chewing through your data if you’re watching in 1080p definition). Instead of breaking down every app out there (who has the time?), we have made it a bit easier to navigate by investigating some of the major app categories. But here is a list of some of the highest data usage apps you’ll likely have on your phone:

  • Streaming apps such as Netflix, Stan and Foxtel Now
  • Social media apps such as Tik Tok, Tumblr and Instagram
  • GPS and ridseharing apps such as Uber, DiDi and Maps

How much data does streaming use?

girl sitting on couch phone

Streaming is often the quickest way to hit your data limit, but how much does it actually use? On average, Foxtel Now, Netflix and Stan use over 1GB per hour streaming on Standard Definition, with High Definition costing you around 3GB of data per hour. While not every service offers their data usage figures, you can assume other streaming provider, including Hayu, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and YouTube would use a similar amount, so it’s best to keep an eye on your data then next time you click on ‘Next Episode’.

Streaming Service Low Definition Standard Definition High Definition
Netflix 0.3GB 0.7GB 3GB
Stan 0.57GB 1.13GB 2.89GB
Foxtel Now 0.47GB 1.4GB 3.2GB

Data usage based on hourly use. Information gathered from respective websites, Jan 2020.

Also falling under the streaming category is music streaming apps. While no official numbers have been released by Spotify or Apple Music, multiple online sources state that a low quality music stream will cost you around 40MB to 50MB per hour, while normal quality will be closer to 70MB per hour, with a high quality sound costing you around 115MB per hour. While a lot less than video streaming, if you’re a big music fan, your tunes may be pushing you over your limit.

How to reduce data usage on streaming apps

The easiest way to cut back on data usage is to lower the definition of your stream. While you’ll sacrifice quality, it may be better to watch a blurry picture than pay a bigger bill. Alternatively, if you don’t want to sacrifice quality, you can always download your music or shows on your home Wi-Fi and watch/listen offline, allowing you to get the best of both worlds.

How much data does social media use?

using a phone with apps

Most social media apps – including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tik Tok and Tumblr – all use approximately 1MB-3MB per minute of use, although photo and video heavy apps, such as Tik Tok and Instagram, will use more, particularly if you have the ‘auto-play’ feature on. Considering how popular social media apps are – and how many of them you likely have on your phone – you may have to choose between a higher phone bill or posting that Boomerang on Instagram.

How to reduce data usage on social media apps

With videos the biggest killer of data, altering your settings to never auto-play videos will save you from running out of data before the month is done. And while not available on all apps, you can change your settings on Facebook by going through Settings > Media and Contacts > Videos and Photos > Auto-play > Never Auto-play Videos. You can also cut down on how much data your social media apps use by simply using them less, but is that really an option?

How much data do GPS and ridesharing apps use?

ride sharing apps holding phone

As GPS and ridesharing apps need constant location tracking to work effectively, they’ll often use a lot more data than you think. While no official numbers have been released, most online estimates put apps such as Maps, DiDi and Uber at around 1GB-3GB of data per month. While not a huge number in comparison to other apps you have on your phone, if you’re constantly travelling or taking Ubers, your data may also be taken for a ride.

How to reduce data usage on ridesharing and GPS apps

In addition to simply just using it less (although a bit tough when you don’t know where you’re going), you can also limit location services, meaning your apps aren’t communicating 24/7. You can alter the location services via Settings > Privacy > Location Services.

How else can I save data on my phone?

In both iOS and Android systems, there are changes you can make within your smartphone to decrease unnecessary data drainage. These include:

  • On iOS, turn off ‘Wi-Fi’ assist. This is a feature which automatically swaps your Wi-Fi connection to your cellular data if the phone detects a weak signal from your Wi-Fi. Although great in theory, if you are constantly around a weak Wi-Fi, you may be using data in your own home more often than you think. To turn this off, go to Settings > Mobile > Wi-Fi Assist > toggle ‘off’.
  • For iOS, prevent iTunes and the Apple Store from automatically updating and downloading apps when you are connected to cellular data. To do this, go to Settings > iTunes & App Stores and then scroll down to Mobile and Data. From here, switch App Updates and Automatic Downloads to ‘off’. For Android, this can also be done but through the Google Play store. From here, click on the three horizontal lines on the top left hand of the screen, then go to Settings > Auto-update apps > and select Do not auto-update apps.

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