Last week's U2 Missile Strike was just the first volley in what is turning into an all out assault by Apple on mobile data plans everywhere - and if you ever use a mobile hotspot you might have already been hit.
Apple released iOS 8 to the public last week on Wednesday, September 17th. Apple is calling it "the biggest iOS release ever" - and it is indeed packed full of more new features than any prior OS update.
It is a BIG download too - roughly 2GB in size, though it varies substantially depending on the target device and whether or not it is being installed via iTunes or directly.
It is easy enough to accidentally click on the update button that iTunes prompts you with about a new OS update, perhaps thinking that it might be a small download. The update window gives no indication that you are opting in to multiple gigabytes:
If you are connected via cellular (such as via a mobile hotspot), do not agree to this update!
But even if you avoid triggering an update via iTunes, Apple is still out to devour your data ration for the month.
Apple seems to assume that an iOS device connected to WiFi is on a fast, unlimited, and free connection - and uses the following logic to determine whether or not to trigger an automatic download silently in the background:
- Am I plugged in and charging?
- Do I have enough memory free?
- Am I on WiFi and can I reach the internet?
If so.... Burn up the gigabytes and start downloading!
Apple's goal is to delight typical users by not making them wait potentially hours for an update to download. Only after the update is ready to be installed do they notify users, and then let them install it on their schedule. There is currently no way to opt out of this "helpful" feature.
But for users who get their WiFi via a cellular data plan, this is a recipe for disaster - with monthly data allotments likely to get devoured, or even expensive overage charges racked up. For households with multiple iOS devices, the potential for bandwidth devouring misery is multiplied.
Even the Apple TV is hoping to join in on the assault - it also runs iOS and has just received a massive update as well. If you haven't explicitly turned off the "auto update" feature, it is happy to auto-download away.
Protection From The Data Storm?
First - check if you might have already been hit. In the Settings app, under "General" // "Software Update" if you see "Downloaded" your device has already done the deed and is just waiting for you to trigger the install.
If you still haven't been hit and have cellular enabled iPhones or iPads, turn off WiFi and leave it off until you are on a truly free connection with time to spare for the big download.
If you have iOS devices that you only connect via WiFi and a mobile hotspot, unfortunately there is no easy way to protect yourself. If you try to use your iPad via a cellular WiFi hotspot, it will be hard to prevent it from trying to begin a huge download in the background.
Ultimately the only way to protect yourself is to try and get ahead of the assault. Head to a place with fast free data and make a date of downloading all your OS updates, and all the gigabytes of updated apps as well.
Set aside a few hours and find a public library, or a nice chill restaurant with great wifi.
If your iOS devices are low on memory - you are also protected from the auto download. But this also means that you can not manually trigger the download yourself when visiting a place with fast free data either. If you have a device low on storage, you will need to free up space - or do the upgrade via iTunes by bringing along your computer.
Apple - Respect Our Bits!
This sort of lack of respect of mobile data users isn't at all uncommon - Apple is just one glaring example in the spotlight right now.
I wish companies and developers would stop assuming that WiFi is fast, free, and unlimited. It isn't always.
Automatic magic happening in the background is nice, but not if we can't opt out of it! By giving us more information over the size of downloads, and more control over what gets downloaded and when, those of us on limited data rations would be much better off. And even users on slower unlimited home connections would be happier too.
If only they gave us a choice...
Until then, the assault continues. Be on guard!