iOS 6 Streaming Bug Sends Data Usage Skyrocketing; Drives Up Data Fees

When Apple released iOS 6 earlier this fall it took a beating over the state of its mapping software compared to Google Maps. All the chatter over the mapping software's shortcomings may have obscured a much larger problem that could financially impact a number of people.

iOS 6, by all appearances, has a streaming problem. This is separate from the network issues that led Verizon to state that it wouldn't bill people for overages that were caused by spotty Wi-Fi connectivity. The issue has been detailed in a blog post at with information on how the team saw a huge spike in bandwidth usage after the release of iOS 6, then carefully tested the behavior of devices and its own app to narrow the possible cause.

As the author notes, "In one case, the playback of a single 30MB episode caused the transfer of over 100MB of data." PRX believes that the issue was solved with the release of iOS 6.0.1, but anecdotal evidence from readers points to continued incidents of high data usage, even after updating.

There are two iPhones on my AT&T account. One of them is an iPhone 4S running OS 5.1.1, the other is an iPhone 4 on iOS 6.0. The person who uses that device does a fair bit of streaming, so I pulled up her recent data usage. Here's the graph:

I'm lucky -- both of my iPhones are still on grandfathered data plans. For someone on a metered plan, the impact of using 4.87x more data (September is the baseline) runs an easy $80-$110 per month in overage fees.

If you own an iPhone 5 or upgraded to iOS 6, we strongly recommend checking your usage over the past two months, updating to iOS 6.0.1, and girding up for a lengthy discussion with your carrier if it turns out your data use went through the roof.

How Long Before Apple's Reputation Starts To Slip?

I consider this a much more serious issue than the company's decision to launch a mapping product that was clearly in beta. For 99% of users, Apple Maps was an inferior choice, but not a problem that hit people in the wallet. You could (accurately) argue that this streaming data error is only a problem because carriers like AT&T and Verizon can get away with charging $10-$30 per gigabyte. And you'd be right.

The bigger, more systemic problem is the way these issues are chipping away at Apple's once-sterling reputation for excellent software, out of the box. When iOS 5 launched, it came with a flurry of battery life issues, muted calls, and Wi-Fi access problems. To some extent, these problems are inevitable and unavoidable -- but this is the first time that a prominent OS bug could directly translate into higher cellular bills for millions of users.

Ask Microsoft how easy it is to shake a negative reputation for shoddy development once you've hung it around your neck. For a decade, the rule of thumb when adopting a new Microsoft OS was "Wait for SP1." It's only been in the last few years that Microsoft's investments into security and shipping better software have begun to translate into improved consumer and corporate perceptions.

After poor experiences upgrading to OS 4.0 on an iPhone 3G, I swore off upgrading iOS until multiple bug fixes were finished. I've yet to regret it.
Tags:  iPhone, ATT, Verizon, iOS 6, pple