Do you play a monthly game of iPhone data use brinksmanship like these kids of mine? One tends to win and stay within a cellular data plan, but just barely and luckily. The other tends to lose and pay for more data just before the month ends.
If you can relate, then this post is as much for you as for them. It’s a round-up of things you can do — both technically and behaviorally — to stay within your monthly data plan. They are all worth trying before deciding that there’s something wrong with your iPad, iPhone or service provider, or that it’s time to up your cellular data plan.
Technical tweaks: Adjust your settings
Keep your Wi-Fi antenna on to use it at every opportunity. Tap Settings > Wi-Fi > Wi-Fi — tap switch to “On.” Generally, your iDevice will choose Wi-Fi over 3G when both are available.
Force your iDevice to use Wi-Fi only to drastically cut down on cell data usage, especially when you are nearing your data plan limit. Tap Settings > Cellular Data on an iPad — or Settings > General > Cellular > Cellular Data — and then tap switch to “Off.” This setting converts an iPad into a consumption-only tablet, and your iPhone into a regular phone that can make and receive phone calls, and retrieve regular voicemails through your carrier’s system. When connected to Wi-Fi, your iPhone or iPad will also allow you send or receive your iMessages, SMS texts and emails; browse or interact with the Web, and receive app notifications.
Tip: There are certain items that you will not receive – even when you’re in a Wi-Fi hotspot – until the Cellular Data switch is turned back on. These include visual voicemails, group iMessages, and multimedia or MMS messages with photo or video attachments. So regularly toggle Cellular Data back to “On” to avoid appearing rude, unresponsive or both.
Tip: To further control your cell data usage when the Cellular Data switch is set to “On,” scroll to below the switch and toggle off most, if not all, of the items in the “Use Cellular Data for” section. Each listed item can be a voracious data gobbler.
Tip: Also go to Settings > iTunes & App Stores > Use Cellular Data — toggle switch to “Off.” This forces your iDevice to use Wi-Fi only to download apps, books, music, movies and TV shows from any iTunes store or the iTunes Match service.
Minimize push notifications from your apps because they consume data. Tap Settings > Notifications. Then, whittle down the list of apps within the “In Notification Center” section. Keep only the apps from which you absolutely must receive alerts in a timely manner. For all others apps, tap on each one and toggle its “Notification Center” switch to “Off.” Then, for each app within “Not in Notification Center,” select the “Alert Style” of “None” and toggle its “Sound” and “View in Lock Screen” switches to “Off.” Optionally, also toggle its “Badge App Icon” switch to “Off.”
Tip: The alert service of an app goes from automatic to on-demand when you toggle off its “Notification Center” switch. Any app that you’ve asked to notify you via sounds, alert or badges will do so when you open it.
Tip: If an app continues you to notify you even after you’ve removed it from “In Notification Center,” disable notifications from within the app itself. Tap “Settings” and scroll down to the list of apps at the bottom of your screen on an iPhone, or in the sidebar on an iPad. Tap the app and toggle off its notification service.
Tame your Mail app because the more often it updates your emails over the air, the more data it consumes. The most data-frugal (and battery-conserving) approach is to disallow your Mail app to push emails to your iDevice from servers and make it fetch your emails instead, and as infrequently as possible or on demand. Here’s how to make that happen:
- If you have only one email account, tap Settings > Mail, Contact, Calendars > Fetch New Data > Push – tap switch to “Off.” Then under “Fetch,” choose the longest time period you can tolerate between your iDevice’s email-fetching expeditions. Or, to save the most data, choose “Manually.”
- If you have multiple email accounts, follow the same procedure described above if you’d like to apply the same push and fetch settings to all of them. But if you’d like some email accounts to be pushed and others to be fetched, then toggle the “Push” switch to “On.” Next, choose the longest tolerable frequency under “Fetch.” Finally, tap “Advanced” to tap each email account in turn and choose “Push,” “Fetch” or “Manually,” as desired.
Tip: If you use Facebook, tame it also. Otherwise, it will alert you about every little thing that happens within your circles, and send you lots of frivolous emails that will consume precious data (and battery power) to receive and read.
- To control Facebook alerts, tap Settings > Notifications > Facebook. Toggle its “Push” switch to “Off” (preferably) or minimize your alert options.
- To control Facebook push notifications, launch your Facebook app. Tap the “List” icon on the upper-left corner, scroll down to “Account Settings” and tap “Notifications.” Un-check as many kinds of alerts as possible (preferably all), or tap “Email Notifications” at the bottom and choose “Only email notifications about your account, security and privacy.” If you don’t use the Facebook app, then you can make the same push notification changes within your Facebook account on the Web.
Browsing tweaks: Make new habits
Postpone data-gobbling Web activities until you can access the Web over Wi-Fi. These include streaming or downloading media (music, movies, video and podcasts), downloading apps and app updates, playing online games, using map apps, and downloading PDFs and documents from the Web.
Use Spotlight Search or “Safari Lite” to connect to the Web because your regular Safari app will automatically take you to the last Web page you visited and use up some data to update it.
- To use Spotlight Search, go to your main home screen by pressing the Home button, then swipe to the right. Key in any query in the search box and then tap “Search Web.”
- To create and use “Safari Lite,” first make a blank Web page. Tap Safari, type “about:blank” in the longer (address) search box above and then tap “Go” on the keyboard. Next, bookmark this blank page on your home screen. Tap the curved-arrow icon above (iPad) or below (iPhone). Tap “Add to Home Screen,” and then rename the bookmark “Safari Lite.” Drag the new Web clip that now appears on your home screen to wherever your original Safari app is and then hide your original Safari app in a folder to avoid using it.
Tip: Your iPad or iPhone gives you a “Clear Cookies and Data” option that you can use when your iDevice frequently quits apps from low memory or presents a possible security issue. You can find this option under Settings > Safari. However, cache data allows your iDevice to load revisited Web pages faster from memory and download only new data that may have been added since your last visit. So use this option only when necessary.
View maps in street rather than satellite view, whether Google Maps, Apple Maps or other similar app.
Favor a GPS app that downloads and stores maps and directions within itself, rather than pulls the same information over the air.
Bookmark the RSS feeds of your favorite blogs and news providers, rather than their home Web pages. You can then selectively choose from their bare-bones feeds what to open and read in full, data-rich splendor.
- Use Safari to read and bookmark RSS links. First, create the folder. Tap Safari’s Bookmark book icon, followed by “Edit” on the upper-right corner and then “New Folder” on the upper-left corner of the pop-up window. Name your folder “RSS Feeds” and then tap“Bookmarks” on the upper left, followed by “Done.” Next, tap open the orange RSS feed links of your favorite sites to save into this folder. While on each site, tap Safari’s curved-arrow icon, followed by “Add Bookmark.” Edit the bookmark’s name, browse to your new RSS Feed folder below it and then tap “Save” on the upper right corner.
- Use a third-party app that syncs with other reader programs that you already use (such as Google Reader). Popular app recommendations include Feeddler RSS Reader for iPad and iPhone, Pulse and Reeder. Favor the app that allows you to view simple post links and schedule syncs for when you are connected to the Web via Wi-Fi.
Tip: You can read Web pages data-free by saving them to Reading List in Safari. While on each page, simply tap the curved-arrow icon and choose “Add to Reading List.” However, save these pages while you’re using Wi-Fi because downloading them involves a lot of data. To ensure this, tap Settings > Cellular Data > “Use Cellular Data for” > Reading List on an iPad — or Settings > General > Cellular > Cellular Data > “Use Cellular Data for” > Reading List on an iPhone — and then tap switch to “Off.” Also, keep in mind that while Reading List pages consume zero data to read, activating a link within them will use up data to retrieve.
Monitor your data usage so you can get a better handle on it. Eventually, you’ll get a sense of which apps or activities hog data or are better used with Wi-Fi only. Here are some things you can do:
- Reset your cellular usage statistics monthly to coincide with your data plan. Tap Settings > General > Usage > Cellular Usage > Reset Statistics. Put a recurring event in your Calendar app to remind you.
- Check your real-time usage stats on an iPhone by logging into your account on your carrier’s website. Or dial *3282# on AT&T, #3282 on Verizon, or *4 followed by 4 on Sprint. On an iPad with an active data plan., tap Settings > Cellular Data > View Account. Enter your username and password to see your Account overview page.
- Use a third-party app to track, manage and/or compress your data usage. Popular app recommendations include Onavo Extend, Onavo Count, DataMan, Data Usage and My Data Usage Pro.
Have I missed any other tip, trick or tweak that might optimize your cellular data usage savings?