Despite cellular networks being faster than ever, network providers still have a stranglehold on data. While we’re relying more on streaming services and cloud storage at home, it’s not surprising to find yourself running out of data thanks to a restrictive mobile contract.
If you’re sick of running out of data or racking up massive bills, it’s time to take control of your usage and restrict what your iPhone can do online.
Learn to Monitor Usage
The best way to save data is to be aware of exactly what you’re using, and most operators provide an app that allows you to monitor usage. Simply download your provider’s app, login, and check it on a semi-regular basis — you may even be able to add a widget to the iOS Notification Center. Some operators allow you to set alerts when things get low, but plenty omit this feature.
Another way of doing it is to use the built-in iOS data monitor found under Settings > Mobile. Unfortunately there’s no way of resetting these statistics automatically, you’ll have to do it yourself manually each month by scrolling to the very bottom of the page and hitting Reset Statistics.
Restrict Individual Apps
While it may seem extreme, you may not want an app using the cellular network at all while you’re outside of the house. If that sounds like you, disable access by heading to Settings and scrolling down till you find the app in question. Tap on it and disable Mobile Data to deny it Internet access unless you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network.
Keep in mind that this will disable all cellular network access, and may stop the app from functioning properly (or at all) while using 3G or 4G. As an example, you won’t be able to refresh the feed of a social network app, or update your status, or receive messages on an instant messenger app like WhatsApp.
This may be useful in certain circumstances — for certain games that come with regular hefty in-app updates, video streaming services you only want to use at home, or cloud storage apps you use on occasion.
Lock Down Facebook & Instagram
Facebook is the bane of many iOS user’s lives — not only does it suck up your spare time, it also eats your battery and mobile data too. This isn’t helped by the fact that Facebook is, by default, designed to auto-load all video content you scroll past whether you have any intention of watching it or not. This is a huge waste of data when you can just tap-to-play instead.
To change this setting, launch the Facebook app and head to the More tab. Scroll down and tap Settings > Account Settings > Videos & Photos and change Auto-play to On Wi-Fi Connections Only. You can also use this menu to enable or disable HD uploads for photos and videos — leaving this off will save you data if you regularly share videos or photos while out and about.
For Instagram, which also uses auto-loading video content, you only have one option to help you out. Head to the Profile tab, and hit the settings “cog” icon in the top-right corner. From here tap Mobile Data Use and enable Use Less Data. Things will load slower, but you’ll save data.
Limit Apple Music, Spotify, Podcasts, & More
Regardless of which streaming service you use for entertainment on-the-go, the best way to save data is to not use any at all by syncing your favorite tunes so that they are stored locally on your device. You might need to make some free space depending on how much music you want to store.
For Apple Music, you can store music locally by doing the following:
- Launch the Music app and find the playlist, album, genre (and so on) you want to save offline.
- Tap on the “cloud with down arrow” logo at the top of the item in question.
- Observe the download window that appears. You’ll need to repeat this step for each additional item.
Spotify users can do the following:
- Launch the Spotify app and find the playlist, album, genre (or optionally your entire collection) you want to sync.
- At the top of the screen enable Available Offline.
- Wait for the download to complete and repeat for any additional items.
If you use another service to access your music, the option should be there also — just poke around till you find it. Of course, once you’ve downloaded your music offline, you’ll want to ensure you’re only accessing locally-stored tunes.
On Apple Music, you can do this from the My Music tab — just tap the category (Albums, Artists, Genres, and so on) and in the window that pops up enable Only Downloaded Music at the bottom of the list. Remember to disable this setting when you want full access again.
Spotify users should head to the main menu (the icon with three horizontal lines), tap Settings, then Playback. Here you can enable Offline mode to stop Spotify from attempting to go online and retrieving music.
Limit Streaming Quality
You can disable a streaming app’s access to the cellular network like any other app using the instructions at the start of this article, but that will impact your experience, and you won’t even be able to browse artists and add albums to your collection without listening to them. It’s also nice to have the option to stream something if you really want to, so why not limit the streaming quality instead?
For Apple Music head to your iPhone’s Settings > Music and make sure High Quality of Mobile is disabled. Spotify allows users three tiers of streaming quality under the app’s Settings > Streaming Quality menu — choose “normal” or “high” if you’re feeling brave, and avoid “extreme” to save data.
If you love podcasts (and who doesn’t?) then you should get yourself a decent podcast app and use it to download your shows offline before you leave the house, so you can enjoy them on-the-go without worrying about data usage.
Use a Data-Friendly Browser
Safari is a capable browser when it comes to browsing the web, but it’s not designed with reduced data consumption in mind. There are however a few alternative iOS browsers that can compress the web pages you visit to provide a lighter, less feature-rich experience that’s kinder to your mobile plan.
Opera Mini has had this feature for a long time, and it comes with two options — “Opera Mini mode”, which can save up to 90% of the data you use with heavy-duty compression, and “Opera Turbo mode”, which maintains a fairly rich web experience while saving around 50% of the data you’d use just by browsing via Safari. It also includes a “video boost” feature which compresses online videos, but you should really avoid video content altogether if data usage is a concern.
Google’s Chrome for iOS also has this feature, enabled via the Settings > Data Saver menu. It uses a data compression proxy for all but your most secure traffic, resulting in around a 46% reduction in traffic based on Google’s own numbers.
Disable Background App Refresh
I’m not convinced that disabling this feature will save you a ton of data, but if apps are refreshing in the background and you’re not using them very often, then you might as well save a few extra megabytes here and there.
You can make changes via Settings > General > Background App Refresh, but instead of doing that, it’s better to restrict access on a per-app basis for the ones you rarely use.
Last Resort: Use 3G or Disable Access
Finally, if you really find yourself burning through data and you lack the willpower to do anything about it, you can always try slowing things down. 3G networks are slower than 4G and often far more congested, so you can potentially save data by getting less browsing done. Personally I’d never recommend it, but it’s an option for those of you who are struggling.
Head to Settings > Mobile > Mobile Data Options > Voice & Data and choose 3G.
How Do You Use Data?
Do you have a serious problem with your mobile plan? Maybe you should consider checking out the best US data plans and see how yours compares. If you’ve learned any particularly expensive lessons from watching a few too many YouTube videos on the train, then confess all below!
Got any tips for fellow readers struggling to control data usage?
Image Credit: using mobile phone and shouting by Dean Drobot via Shutterstock