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Why iPhone Users Hate Mobile WiFi Slightly Less Than Android Users Do

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Apr 12, 2012 5:00 AM PT

A cool study caught my attention recently. It says that iPhones have significantly higher rates of WiFi utilization than Android phones in the U.S. and the UK. I immediately found that point weird, because after all, most Android smartphones also come with contracts that require users to pay for a data plan. These plans are usually fairly comparable to the iPhone data plans, which means they aren't cheap.

Why iPhone Users Hate Mobile WiFi Slightly Less Than Android Users Do

And yet, comScore found that 71 percent of all unique iPhones used both mobile and WiFi networks to connect to the Internet, while only 32 percent of unique Android mobile phones used both types of connections in the U.S. The UK had higher WiFi utilization rates but a similar gap. Furthermore, in the U.S., 29 percent of iPhone users browsed only via mobile networks while 68 percent of Android users browsed only via mobile networks. This means that these users are intentionally not using WiFi. Whoah. They can't all be rich and willing to pay for big data plans, and they can't all be data sippers.

So why is there more WiFi use on iPhones than on Android?

Some Android phones might be able to tap into next-generation high-speed mobile networks like 4G LTE, but there are plenty of Android phones that don't. And I don't think it has anything to do with free WiFi access like all those points offered by AT&T to its customers around the country.

No, I think the difference can be explained by two key things: 1) the iPhone's massive popularity, and 2) the iPhone's slightly better ability to connect to WiFi. (But there's more to this story, as I'm sure you suspect.)

Massive Popularity, Thank You Very Much

Because the iPhone has so many users, it gets the lion's share of the press coverage, and because there's so much more press coverage, there's tons of information about how the major cellular service providers are offering data plans. This clearly raises the knowledge of data plans and how they work. Then add in the news about AT&T choking its so-called "unlimited" iPhone data users, as well as new iPad users blasting through their cellular data plans in a single day, and the cost of using only cellular data becomes saturated in the mind of the iPhone owner.

In this case, knowledge doesn't equal power; knowledge equals WiFi.

My Kindle Fire Sucks at WiFi!

I've got a love-hate relationship with my Kindle Fire. When it works great, I love it. I get all sorts of Amazon Prime movies and TV shows free to stream, just like Netflix. And then, just when I'm all set to resume watching a TV show series, the Fire starts thinking ... and I wait for the stream to load and play ... and wait ... and then the Fire tells me there's something wrong with my home network or some such nonsense. So I look at my iPhone, and it's getting a signal, and I know WiFi is working, and yet the Kindle Fire has gagged somehow. Just now, right this minute as I'm typing this, my Kindle Fire has a pop-up telling me, "No Internet Connection: A WiFi network connection is required to complete this task. Please connect to a WiFi network."

My Kindle Fire is eight feet away from my WiFi router. A Dell PC has a WiFi connection just fine, and it pretty much never fails. My iPhone is nine feet away, and it has a WiFi connection. The Kindle Fire itself shows that the WiFi connection is active. So what gives? Maybe my WiFi router isn't that fantastic. Maybe it's like an old dog: hard of hearing, stubborn and hard to communicate with. So maybe some of the problems with WiFi use we can blame on weird hardware and software glitches, as well as the "magic" failing to consistently send information wirelessly around a spinning rock in space.

But what to do with the Kindle Fire? Do I reboot the thing? Nah. That takes time, and the clock on my free time is ticking. So I go searching for the WiFi setting. I hit the "gear" icon at the top right, find WiFi in the list, and physically tell the Fire to look again because I know my network is right here, all around us. It does. I'm reconnected. I can go back to browsing. Except, sometimes this doesn't work because a) I give up and pull my iPhone out of my pocket, or b) I reboot anyway.

What does this tell me? It tells me that an Android device designed only for WiFi isn't easy to always connect to WiFi, and overall, my home WiFi network is pretty stable. Guest MacBooks, PCs, iPods, an Xbox 360 and even the occasional Zune connect to it all the time and remain stable. So maybe there's some fine-tuning needed in how Android handles WiFi connections, yes?

Probably, but that's a big blanket statement. There are lots of versions of Android and lots of different hardware. Yet if you've been following this issue out and around the Web, you'll likely see some blog readers and forum commenters saying things like, "my Android phone fails to stay connected to WiFi, causing apps to fail," or "with WiFi on I get terrible battery life."

Speaking of battery life, what's worse than paying too much for data?

Looking at a dead smartphone in your hand.

So plenty of us just turn off anything that might make our smartphones think too hard and drain battery.

There is another possible point here, too, and that is that Android owners are smarter and more technically savvy than iPhone owners when it comes to security -- on average. In that case they might be less likely to simply connect to any free WiFi network they happen to stumble into for fear of some malicious activity.

What, No AirPlay?

There's another incremental factor at work here, and that's the Apple ecosystem. If iPhone owners are more likely to browse and download apps via the App Store, they will more likely do it via WiFi because they will be able to download any app they want, regardless of size. Plus, when they are at home, if they have an Apple TV, they know they can control it remotely via their iPhone via WiFi, as well as instantly AirPlay content from their iPhone to the HDTV connected to the Apple TV. (This, by the way, rocks after you come home after shooting some video clips and want to share them.)

Not enough? There's more! How about iMessage? If your iPhone is connected to WiFi, iPod, iPad and Mac users can all send you iMessages without needing to use a cellular service provider's text messaging service. Granted, iMessage is still fairly new. But FaceTime is not new, and FaceTime needs WiFi to work. For any iPhone-toting user, there's a darn good chance they will at least have WiFi enabled when they are at home so they can FaceTime with family and friends. Android users don't have something as ubiquitous as FaceTime when it comes to video calling. They can do it, but they can't be sure that their friends and family all have the right apps and the right accounts. It takes far more coordination.

Still, It All Sucks!

Meanwhile, I can't say that I'm overly impressed with the iPhone's ability to seamlessly switch from cellular data to WiFi data. Yes, it's pretty good, and it might be better than the competition, but as a consumer, I don't really care. I'm just irritated as I look at a text message that seemed to be delivered to a buddy ... and I wait for his response and wait and wait and then find out it wasn't delivered, or that my iPhone tried to deliver it via WiFi as an iMessage, but maybe my buddy was moving out of a WiFi area, so now there's a lag time before something, somewhere, decides that maybe this message should be sent as a text message via AT&T instead. What happens here? You get a laggy response as you try to text with other iPhone users who have iMessage set up with WiFi on and/or have aren't staying connected to WiFi.

And still, there's more. Occasionally my iPhone 4 (and others) will act as if they can't connect to the Internet via Safari when browsing. What then? Sometimes you can turn off WiFi and turn it back on and that will reconnect you to the world. But not always. Often enough, I growl then simply turn off WiFi altogether and browse via my AT&T 3G connection. Sounds a little like some Android users, no?

And it's not just me. Some owners of the brand new iPad are experiencing WiFi connectivity issues. One discussion on the Apple website has hundreds of posts on the topic. And this is a brand new device from the creators of devices that must work flawlessly for consumers.

As near as I can tell, clearly something is still wrong with WiFi ... and I thought this was an old technology and that most of the kinks have finally been ironed out.

MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at

Is "too much screen time" really a problem?
Yes -- smartphone addiction is ruining relationships.
Yes -- but primarily due to parents' failure to regulate kids' use.
Possibly -- long-term effects on health are not yet known.
Not really -- lack of self-discipline and good judgement are the problems.
No -- angst over "screen time" is just the latest overreaction to technology.
No -- what matters is the quality of content, not the time spent viewing it.
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