Save data on your iPhone or iPad
Does your iPhone keep running out of cellular data before your allowance is reset each month? Karen Khan’s tips will help
1. Wi-Fi Assist
A quick one worth checking before we move on to more difficult or inconvenient solutions. When Apple introduced iOS 9 some users found that their Mobile Data (or Cellular Data if you are in the US’) was being gobbled up more rapidly than before. It turned out that the reason for this was Apple’s new Wi-Fi Assist feature, which utilises the mobile network if your Wi-Fi is flaky.
If you think this is happening to you, you can turn this feature off in Settings > Mobile Data then scroll to the bottom of the page where you can turn off Wi-Fi Assist. In iOS 10, Apple tweaked the feature so it now shows how much data has been used by Wi-Fi assist. It’s still a feature that’s on by default, though.
Apple has at least made sure that there are some limitations to the feature, though: it won’t work when you are data roaming in another country and not all apps can take advantage of the feature, for example video and audio streaming apps are exempt. However, Apple’s Safari, Mail, Maps, and Apple Music do utilise the feature.
2. Track how much iPhone data you use
Before you can start to manage your iPhone cellular data usage, you need to keep tabs on how much you are using. To view how much data you have used go to Settings > Cellular (Or Mobile Data) and scroll down to see your Mobile Data Usage. If you have never reset this number it could be pretty big.
Our advice is to get in the habit of resetting it every month, perhaps set an alert on your phone so that you remember to reset it on the day your network resets your allowance. To reset your statistics, scroll down to the bottom of the page and tap: Reset Statistics. Get in the habit of looking here once in a while so you can see if you are on target.
Those looking for something a little more comprehensive should take a look at Data Usage, an app that we have been using ourselves for the past three years to keep track of our monthly data usage.
The app looks to measure cellular and Wi-Fi data usage in real time, and offers this in two different ways – via the app itself, and via a handy Today widget that can be added to your notification centre.
The app asks you to input your monthly data limit and then produces statistics like how much you should use per day until your data is renewed, or if you’re likely to go over your allowance in any given month.
Users can also take a look back at the data from any month in the past, as long as the app was being used of course. Those interested can take a look at Data Usage on the App Store, and it only costs 49p.
3. Stop iPhone apps using cellular data
Back in iOS 7, Apple introduced the ability to determine which apps on your iPhone are allowed to use cellular data. When we are close to our allowance, we head to Settings > Cellular/Mobile Data and scroll down to switch off a number of apps so that we will think twice before wasting our cellular allowance on them.
The other benefit of stopping some of your apps using cellular data is that it should stop them updating in the background when you are out and about – thereby preserving battery life.
Below each of the apps on the Settings > Cellular page you will see just how much data they have been using since you last reset your iPhone.
You can expect that the apps you use frequently will have higher data usage, but any that stand out as guzzling a lot more data that you think they should be can be switched off here.
4. Turn off 3G and 4G data on your iPhone
If things are really desperate, one way to preserve your data when you are running low is to temporarily disable cellular data. This way if you have a week or so to go until your contract renews then you can manage your usage rather than running out completely.
To turn off your cellular data so go to Settings > Cellular (Mobile Data) and toggle the Cellular Data (Mobile Data) switch to off.
This will turn off all cellular data and restrict all data to Wi-Fi, including email, web browsing and push notifications. We also find this is a handy way to preserve battery life – as opposed to turning the phone to Airplane Mode, which preserves power but means nobody can contact you.
5. Turn off autoplay video in Facebook, Twitter & Instagram
A while ago Facebook added a feature to their iOS app that means when you are scrolling through your news feed any video that’s been posted will automatically stream – even if you’re not on a Wi-Fi network. Obviously this isn’t an ideal situation if you’ve got a limited data allowance. We recommend you change your settings so that it only streams if you are in Wi-Fi.
Open Facebook and click on More at the bottom of the screen. Now choose Account Settings > Videos
and Photos > Video Settings > Auto-play and select On Wi-Fi Connections Only or Never Auto-plays Videos.
Like Facebook, Twitter also has an autoplay video feature that you can turn off in the app. From the profile view, tap the Gear icon, then Settings > Data > Video Autoplay and choose Never play videos automatically or Use Wi-Fi only.
There is a similar series of steps in Instagram to turn off video streaming over your data connection. Tap the Gear icon in Instagram, select Mobile Data Use and choose the Use Less Data option.
6. Use Twitter Lite
Along with the ability to turn off auto-playing videos on Twitter, the social network offers Twitter Lite to allow those with capped data allowances to browse the site without worry. It’s also designed to be used on a slow Internet connection, so is a good alternative to use when travelling.
How does it help? It provides a stripped-down version of mobile Twitter where users have to tap on every image, GIF and video to display it, instead of it being loaded automatically as you scroll past. This should stop images/GIFs/videos you’re not interested in from using up
your mobile data and hopefully make it last a little bit longer than before.
To access Twitter Lite, head to mobile.twitter.com on your iPhone, tap your profile icon and toggle on Data Saver. Once you reload your timeline, you should have access to Twitter Lite.
7. Stop using data-hungry apps on 3G or 4G
FaceTime: It’s great that we can use FaceTime over 3G or 4G, but it sucks up data. Go to Settings > Cellular and scroll down your list of apps to make sure that FaceTime is switched off for cellular data. Crucially, this will also stop anyone contacting you via FaceTime over 3G.
iCloud Drive: Go to Settings > iCloud > iCloud Drive. Here you can turn off Cellular Data so that your iPhone only updates iCloud Drive when you’re on a Wi-Fi network. Alternatively, turn off the ability for apps to store documents and data in the cloud by toggling the switch beside each app to off.
iTunes: Go to Settings > iTunes & App Store and make sure that Use Cellular Data/Mobile Data is switched off. Similarly, if you’re an Apple Music subscriber, make sure Mobile Data is not selected in Settings > Music.
8. Photo Stream
Photo Stream was the main culprit when we started to regularly hit our data allowance back in the summer of 2013, having signed up to a friend’s feed, and started sharing one of our own. Even though the service claimed it would “automatically upload new photos and send them to all of your iCloud devices when connected to Wi-Fi”, we were getting sent photos from our friend’s Photo Stream over 3G.
Luckily things have got better since then. The iOS 7 update bought the ability to manage Photo Sharing. You could turn off iCloud Photo Sharing (at Settings > Photo & Camera), which would stop your phone from downloading images from other people’s shared photo streams that you subscribe to (you can still download them on your Mac or another device).
When Apple launched iCloud Photo Library, we were concerned that it could also gobble up iPhone mobile data, but the Upload to My Photo Stream indicates that it is via Wi-Fi only.
One way to make absolutely sure that Photo doesn’t use your cellular connection is to go to Settings > Mobile Data and switch the slider beside Photos to off.
9. Use Safari reading list to view articles offline
One of our favourite new features that arrived in the iOS 7 version of Safari was the Reading List feature that lets you download a web page for reading off line. This is great when you are reading a web page during a commute and about to head into a tunnel. The feature remains in iOS 8, iOS 9 and iOS 10.
It’s also great if you are out of data and want to be able to read some articles on your iPhone while you are out and about. You can queue up a few web pages in your Reading List while you are on a Wi-Fi network, and then read them without using up any data.
While you have access to Wi-Fi go to Safari, open the web pages you wish to read, click on the Share icon at the bottom of the page, and select Add to Reading List. Wait for the phone to download the article and then head out. You will be able to read it even if you are using Airplane Mode.
However, if you don’t want your phone to use cellular data to download the pages you have added to reading list on your other devices, you need to head to Settings > Safari and scroll down to toggle off Use Cellular Data for reading list.
10. Turn off Push Notifications
How many of your applications are using the Apple Push Notifications service to alert you to new data?
Go to Settings > Notifications to find out. You can easily stop any apps from pestering you with Notifications here.
The format for this has changed slightly in iOS 9 and iOS 10. Previously you could scroll down the list, tap on those apps you don’t want to notify you, and toggle to switch beside: Show in Notification Centre, and Show on Lock Screen. However, you would still want to make sure that those apps that you still want to receive notifications for aren’t doing so over your cellular connection.
In iOS 9 you get the choice of notification style for each app. You can choose for apps to not Allow Notifications. Or you can choose the kind of Notifications you allow.
It’s slightly annoying that you have to turn off Notifications on a per app basis, but you can at least see the kind of notification setting you have for each app without tapping on them first (it’s below the name of the app).
Note that if you have an Apple Watch you may want some apps to display notifications on that device – go
to the Apple Watch app to set this up. Those apps that appear under Include on the Notifications Centre tab may be using data to alert you to changes. If you really don’t need to be told that your friend has replied to your post on Facebook turn Notification Centre off by tapping Facebook, and switching the slider to off.
Be ruthless with the apps that are alerting you to changes, although if you then end up checking them every five minutes it may be a false economy.
11. Stop fetching email
Another one to curb is your email. If you have the phone or iPad set to fetch data wirelessly at specific intervals you will quickly consume data – this can get really out of hand if you have your iPhone set to Push data to your iPhone from the server as it will be updating all the time.
Start by making sure that Push is not selected. The way of doing this has changed in iOS 10.
Previously you could go to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > Fetch New Data and if Push is turned on, turn it off.
Then to make sure you are set to fetch data manually. Go to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > Fetch New Data and scroll down and select Manually from the list. You can be even
more precise if you prefer, and amend your fetch settings for separate accounts. Changing these settings also has the benefit of preserving battery life.
In iOS 10 you need to got Settings > Mail > Accounts > Fetch New Data and from that screen change Contacts & Calendars, and iCloud to Fetch and then in the list below set Fetch to Manually.
Alternatively, go to Settings > Mail scroll to the Messages section and deselect Load Remote Images.
12. Stop Background App Refresh
One of the new features of iOS 7 was the ability for your phone to automatically update its operating system, and it’s apps, in the background without you having to act. The same feature remains in iOS 8, 9 and 10.
However, this can be a problem if your phone decides to update when you aren’t on a Wi-Fi network. Head to Settings > General > Background App Refresh and make sure that the Background App Refresh switch is set to off.
13. Browse in Chrome
There are alternatives to Apple’s Safari when browsing the web on the iPhone and iPad, and a good one to try out if you are a bit short of data is Chrome.
The Chrome app has a Reduce Data feature that will go some way to reduce the size of the websites you are browsing by running the site through Google’s servers and compressing the data.
14. Low-res images in Messages
In iOS 10 or later, you can choose to send low-quality images in Messages. Instead of sending an image in high res it will automatically send it as a compressed version saving your data. To do so, go to Settings > Messages and turn on Low-Quality Image Mode.
15. Mind what you watch on Cellular
Whether it’s Netflix, YouTube or iPlayer, watching your favourite shows could eat up your data if you watch over 3G/4G. In each app go to Settings and select to play back only over Wi-Fi. For example in YouTube go to Settings and choose Play HD on Wi-Fi only. In Netflix go to App Settings > Cellular data usage.
16. Keep Wi-Fi on
If you have ever found yourself switching off Wi-Fi when your phone decides to connect to the Wi-Fi when you are about town you may find yourself using cellular when you are back at home.
It’s a frustration that’s easily fixed if you choose to forget the network when one of them pops up. Just tap on the network name, and in the following screen select Forget this Network.
17. Use Wi-Fi hotspots
You’ll be able to find Wi-Fi networks all around, especially in any big city. You can find Wi-Fi in most coffee shop chains, many restaurants, and other public areas like libraries and airports. If you are a BT broadband subscriber you can use the BT Wi-Fi app to get onto any of their hotspots for free. Download the BT Wi-Fi app
for iOS here. However, you should always exercise an air of caution when accessing a hotspot, as we explain in this article: How do I know if a Wi-Fi hotspot is safe. The best advice is to use a Wi-Fi hotspot that requires a password – it’s an extra assurance that someone else won’t be spying on what you are doing.
18. Share your connection to Wi-Fi
You could create a hotspot from your Mac and access it from your iPhone. This is ideal if you are at work and your boss won’t let you use the local Wi-Fi network, or if you are in a hotel which only has ethernet access.