Is Bigger Better? Facebook Mobile Redesign Spikes Data Usage by 50%

By pandodailyguest , written on July 11, 2012

From The News Desk

If you're addicted to checking Facebook's new photo-centric News Feed on your smartphone, you may want to check your bill. The redesign, which launched in May, spiked data usage by 50 percent, according to data compression startup Onavo. As carriers impose limited plans and apps push "bigger = better" updates, developers will be forced to consider the increased cost of data.

The demand for smartphones has brought about a battle for bandwidth, and the cost is being passed onto the user. AT&T and Verizon axed unlimited plans for new customers last year, and eventually limited plans where users pay for a preset amount of data will be the norm. Onavo is counting on that shift, last year introducing an app that compresses mobile data by up to 80 percent to help alleviate overages. Onavo CEO Guy Rosen believes there's a disconnect going on.

"Developers make these decisions unaware of the consequences to consumers, who are also unaware of the costs," says Onavo CEO Guy Rosen.

The biggest data suckers? Onavo says it's Instagram followed closely by Facebook, based on aggregating a sample of more than 100K iPhones with its app. On the smallest data plans of 500MB, using Instagram costs about $5 a month.

Developers say they are aware, but the overall experience remains their primary concern. Javascript developer Paul Tannenbaum says the discussion usually centers around serving apps faster and lighter, not about data consumption.

"We don't care about sending over a larger file as long as the download time doesn't affect the user. As stuff gets more intensive and carriers cut down on data, at some point it will converge and be an issue," says Tannenbaum, adding innovations in mobile video could present even greater challenges.

The debate over who absorbs the cost of a superior mobile experience - from early photo sharing to IM - has been going on for more than a decade. Users will soon view data as a more precious resource and developers will need to innovate accordingly.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]