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iPhone 4S's Siri Is a Bandwidth Guzzler 290

Posted by timothy
from the at-least-data-is-free dept.
Frankie70 writes "'Siri's dirty little secret is that she's a bandwidth guzzler, the digital equivalent of a 10-miles-per-gallon Hummer H1.' A study by Arieso shows that users of the iPhone 4S demand three times as much data as iPhone 3G users and twice as much as iPhone 4 users, who were identified as the most demanding in a 2010 study. 'In all, Arieso says that the Siri-equipped iPhone 4S "appears to unleash data consumption behaviors that have no precedent."'"
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iPhone 4S's Siri Is a Bandwidth Guzzler

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  • Well, duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 28, 2012 @04:03AM (#38848573)

    New phone debuts with cloud capabilities. People buy new phone, use the shit out of it, and also begin utilizing cloud functions. Of course bandwidth use is going to go up.

    The real scandal here is that the carriers are pushing back, trying to keep bandwidth use down so they don't have to get off their asses invest more than they absolutely have to in network capacity.

    • Re:Well, duh (Score:4, Informative)

      by Osiris Ani (230116) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @04:45AM (#38848703) Homepage

      New phone debuts with cloud capabilities. People buy new phone, use the shit out of it, and also begin utilizing cloud functions. Of course bandwidth use is going to go up.

      Indeed, those who use iOS 5 to run standard backups of their phones to iCloud instead of to the local computer, plus asynchronously merge all contacts, calendars, notes, photos, and videos to iCloud are going to routinely suck up more bandwidth than those who've chosen to stick with the iPhone 3G. That's just common sense. Suppositions to be made about the user's behavior with the newer, faster, otherwise more capable machines are secondary, however potentially valid.

    • Does this mean SIri is not a Bollywood starlet? I am very disappointed!
    • Re:Well, duh (Score:4, Insightful)

      by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Saturday January 28, 2012 @06:36AM (#38848967) Homepage

      I bet a lot of people would be surprised to know that Siri uses bandwidth though. The fact that the phone doesn't do the work and what they said is transmitted to Apple doesn't seem to register with most people.

    • Real Scandal (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DarkOx (621550) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @08:24AM (#38849239) Journal

      No the real scandal is the carriers marketing these phones based on all these data intensive features and one or more of the following:

      1) Not upgrading the infrastructure to support the offerings.
      Inadequate density of towers in metros, lack of coverage or obsolete network support in other areas

      2) Not being realistic about the actual cost of the services with typical use cases
      They need to be clear that if you stream Netflix for an hour and half at the gym everyday in additon to other use it my run you a few grand in overages

      3) Not being realistic about presentation of use cases.
      Stop showing people they can stream music and video constantly in the ads unless, they can (for an affordable price)

      4) Not being able to actually support the products and features they are selling even if they did upgrade infrastructure and selling it anyway.
      Spectrum is limited, it might actually not be possible to put one of these handsets in every pocket.

      • by garcia (6573)

        They need to be clear that if you stream Netflix for an hour and half at the gym everyday in additon to other use it my run you a few grand in overages

        Or the apps themselves do. Like the XM app does.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      It's worse than that - they're actually pushing costs off onto wifi providers. Any crowded place with unmetered wifi - Coffee shops, college networks, hotels, etc. are getting hammered by crap like this, and in some cases aren't budgeted for it. And it's not "just get another access point" - it's the amount of traffic - 802.11 and otherwise - in that spectrum. There's a point where there's just too much traffic, and adding additional equipment won't fix the problem. We can't turn every room into a Faraday C

    • Re:Well, duh (Score:5, Informative)

      by samkass (174571) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @10:24AM (#38849635) Homepage Journal

      The interesting thing, though, is that Siri itself is NOT a bandwidth hog. Ars and others have tested it and it actually doesn't use much bandwidth at all. But it makes the phone SO much more useful that people are sucking down three times as much information if they have Siri to help them find it.

    • Agreed on both points. Siri selects people based on willingness to use data. It is used for searching for things so what happens when you get results? You start browsing to them etc which means you'll be using more data. Kind of an obvious conclusion since with Siri you have a group of people that are selected to be data users, versus non-siri users where the population might or might not use data.

      The cloud functions are pretty huge actually. I've been thinking of that since iCloud came out. I live in Canad

  • by rsmith-mac (639075) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @04:08AM (#38848593)

    This article is stupid and the Washington Post should be ashamed. ArsTechnica ran the numbers 2 months ago [arstechnica.com] and came up with an average of 63KB per query, and even less for queries that were just voice commands for the phone itself (as opposed to an internet lookup).

    In total, our 11 queries added up to 693.6KB, or an average of 63KB per query. As you can see above, Siri tasks that are local to the phone appear to require less data than ones that need further lookups on the Internet, which makes sense.

    If you use Siri 2-3 times per day at an average of 63KB per instance, you might expect to use 126KB to 189KB per day, or 3.7 to 5.5MB per month. For 4-6 times a day, that might come out to 252KB to 378KB per day, or 7.4 to 11MB per month. If you use it 10-15 times per day, you might end up using 630KB to 945KB per day, or 18.5 to 27.7MB per month.

    If Siri is a bandwidth hog, $deity help us all, because that means all that voice traffic and streaming video we do on our phones and tablets must be killing cellular networks and running their bodies through the wood chipper.

    • by Swanktastic (109747) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @04:15AM (#38848621)

      I think a pretty reasonable hypothesis would be that the early adopters are much more likely to be heavy users than the folks using 2-3-4 year old phones. IE it's not the phone (or features) it's the individual.

      • by Lord_Jeremy (1612839) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @06:00AM (#38848869)
        Furthermore, the 4S has a higher resolution camera than previous phones, and the launch of the iCloud service means people are probably uploading things like photos to their cloud storage accounts. +1 TFA is a troll.
      • by laird (2705)

        The 4S is selling in volumes that are hard to think are just early adopters.

        My guess is that Siri makes using web services much easier for normal people, and improved usability leads to increased usage. That's a great thing, not inefficiency.

    • Well, duh. (Score:5, Informative)

      by MrEricSir (398214) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @04:52AM (#38848723) Homepage

      Did you even read the article in question? It's just a re-hash of a press release, written by someone who doesn't seem to understand how any of these newfangled gadgets work.

      Here, this is a quote from the article. See if you can read it without facepalming:

      A study published this month by Arieso, an Atlanta firm that specializes in mobile networks, found that the Siri-equipped iPhone 4S uses twice as much data as does the plain old iPhone 4 and nearly three times as much as does the iPhone 3G. The new phone requires far more data than most other advanced smartphones, which are pretty data-intensive themselves, The Post has reported.

      To continue with the author's car analogy, blaming your new phone for the fact that you download more with it is like blaming your car for a parking ticket. It's not the phone, it's the user.

      Hell, if the author had bothered reading the study he linked to [arieso.com], he'd know the study was about data usage vs. phones. The summary page doesn't even mention Siri.

      • by herojig (1625143)
        agreed, in fact perhaps this is mentioned: iPhone 4s DOES NOT = siri. my phone consumes more data now because of iCloud pumping larger photos and videos which I could never do with my old 3g.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @10:55AM (#38849773)

      That's considerably smaller than the average size of a web page today. I wonder how big an average Wolfram Alpha page is... Siri might be an overall bandwidth saver.

  • by wickerprints (1094741) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @04:10AM (#38848599)

    The WaPo article is nothing more than sensationalist journalism, designed to foment controversy for the sake of attention and readership.

    http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2011/11/how-data-heavy-is-siri-on-an-iphone-4s-ars-investigates.ars [arstechnica.com]

    http://gigaom.com/2012/01/27/siri-is-not-a-bandwidth-hog-and-users-are-not-the-problem/ [gigaom.com]

    http://www.theverge.com/2012/1/27/2753694/siri-isnt-ruining-your-cellphone-service [theverge.com]

    And from my own personal experience as someone who has used an iPhone since the very first model, I have not found that Siri has noticeably increased my data usage. Other types of data access are far more intensive, such as streaming video and music, as well as sharing images/video taken with the iPhone's camera.

  • by boundary (1226600) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @04:17AM (#38848631)
    Welcome to the future. Just as the average web page size has bloated to over 1MB, the average data content in a single smartphone interaction will also grow in size until most peoples' montly data allowance just isn't enough. As more and more data caps are being brought to bear, data usage is going to become much more of an issue for people - at least once they realise they're paying 50 - 100% more for their 'actual' usage than they intended. I wonder how many of them will just accept the extra cost (therefore putting extra cash into the telcos pockets) rather than moderate their behaviour? This is a big deal right now in NZ, where you can pay a shedload of money per month for just 250MB of mobile data...I can only imagine it's going to get worse.
    • by jtownatpunk.net (245670) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @04:59AM (#38848735)

      Someone needs to develop an app that automatically runs a phone's data usage up to within 100 megs of the monthly cap on the last night of the billing cycle. If you're paying for 2, 4, 5, 10 gigs of data per month and it doesn't roll over, you may as well run it right up to the limit every month.

      Sure, it's childish but these ridiculously low caps on 4G data plans is stupid. I'd rather be childish than stupid.

    • by Kjella (173770) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @05:29AM (#38848807) Homepage

      Or it'll be like with Internet connections, remember pay per minute on those? Oh, I sure do. Remember caps and additional money/MB too? Oh yes. Turns out in general people don't like it. Most of us were willing to pay a good price simply to not have to worry about what next month's Internet bill would be. If I end up in the hospital a month and use zero bytes of bandwidth, I'm still going to pay the same. And that's the way I like it. I'm pretty sure that as the market matures cell phone data plans will get more sane too. Actually, checking now the ideal plan if you're a heavy data user in Norway: Netcom Fastpris Data, 249 NOK = 43 USD per month, free data usage, speed reduced to 120 kbps after 5GB. Regular subscriptions on the largest carriers are capped at 400-600 NOK or 70-100 USD so you can't go over that in a single month even if you are online 24x7.

      Just don't use your smartphone abroad. Ever. Or if you must then enable, get your shit done and disable is ASAP. Might not be such a big deal in the US but imagine you had an inter-state charge that could be several dollars per megabyte. That's what it's like in Europe now, the moment you cross the border all rules change. They're supposed to block you after 500 NOK (85 USD) but sometimes they don't and it's your problem. Every so often you get news stories about them charging people thousands of dollars for that shit, total ripoff. Know where the off button is and use it. You'll enjoy your vacation more too, plus it does wonders for your battery life. You don't get to chit-chat with your phone though...

      • I live in Argentina and I complain almost constantly about my 3G connection. I pay 119 pesos a month (that's 27 dollars) for unlimited bandwidth. I usually download at around 2mbps until I hit the 3GB limit, after that I download at ~1mbps as much as I want (but most of the time the speed is closer to 750kbps). Coverage is pretty good (most of the country, even out on the road), and certainly anywhere in the city. If out of town and there's no 3G, it falls over to GPRS at no additional cost, that ain't fast

  • If it takes 64KB to communicate link navigation request using voice input, and ~1KB to do the same with a hyperlink, then yeah, that will have a pretty big impact on data usage. Of course, if you're shelling out up to $400 just for a phone, you probably don't care about the data cost.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...is hot... http://www.imore.com/2012/01/27/siri-guest-stars-big-bang-theory/

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @04:30AM (#38848661)

    If oil companies' made cars, would they be fuel efficient? Hell, no. The more gas sold, the more oil profits.

    It is the same with phone companies. The want you to call and use a lot of data traffic. What they don't want, are flat rates, where they get stuck with the bill. They want to charge every second to the customer. And every bit of unused bandwidth is lost profit for them.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      "They want to charge every second to the customer. And every bit of unused bandwidth is lost profit for them."

      Are you nuts? They don't want to charge every second. Every bit of unused paid for bandwidth is PURE profit for them. Cell companies want to sell you data packages that you're either going to exceed or never come close to using all of. In the former case they get to charge you insane overage rates, in the latter you're always buying bandwidth you're not using.

      The thing they're really afraid of i

  • by Greyfox (87712)
    If I could program Siri so that when I said "Siri, add PERSON to the list!", she would respond "Yes sir. PERSON has been added to the list of people who can blow you," I would totally buy an iphone again. Just for that.
    • You might be able to create a contact group "People who can blow you", give it an alias "the list" and then have Siri add contacts to it.

      More of a hack but still entertaining.

  • by Fri13 (963421) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @04:52AM (#38848727)

    I am just happy to have 2 year contract for unlimited bandwith & amount for 2 euros a month price.
    Network gives good HSPA what means I have almost everywhere where I go a 14.4Mbits / 5.76Mbits and under 80ms pings.

    2 euros a month for that connection is "just there". But when watching my typical data consuming, what is heavy, I would say that 5-10GB for typical user is more than enough. Sometimes personally I go over 20GB a month but that really demands lots of usage so that battery is empty almost everyday two times. And when I use phone as the hotspot/tethering for my and friends laptop, it goes over 30-40GB easily if using just steam.

    At least when most of the country where I live has other unlimited amount but bandwidth limited to 1-2Mbits (what is more than enough for mobile devices, if upload just would be same instead just 42KB/s) and price being 5 euros a month I would say that is good deal as well. Or unlimited bandwidth but prioritizated amount after 50GB a month for 8 euros. A 50GB is hard to come even with heavy use.

    I understand well how ISP's are having problems in USA when their basic network capacity is not taken care in the first place. Heck, even the GSM voice quality is crap when compared to EU countries.

    At one point, I really wish that it would be custom to have a data plan for every citizen for free and bandwidth would be at least 256kbits while amount unlimited.
    It would not be enough for all, but for most people it would be. At least when thinking about VoIP, Emails and basic surfing.

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @06:15AM (#38848909)

    It's certainly the future but I think calling it beta is charitable. When it works right it's great but when it fails it's about as bad as all other voice recognition systems that came before.

    It works just frequently enough and well enough for you to want to rely on it and fails just often enough that you're wanting to chuck the phone out the window in frustration.

    I think the worst bit is the inconsistent network connectivity. Since every bit of voice processing is done off the phone, you're dependent on a network connection and there's no telling when Siri won't be able to reach the server. So you can tell it to set an appointment and it will get that and ask you to confirm it and you say yes and it fails. Or you could be speaking to it in a loud voice and it will either wait 5 seconds after you're speaking to accept what you said for processing or it will cut you off mid-speech to process only part of your request.

    I'm not denying this is the future but it will probably take another iphone version number before they get the glitches ironed out.

  • then that's probably the reason why we have Siri only on the 4S (yet).

  • by drolli (522659)

    What i find most fascinating abut siri is that it is advertised as a feature of the iphone 4 but in reality has nothing to do with it. transferring voice data has been around for a long time on mobile phones.

    • Re:Siri (Score:4, Informative)

      by wickerprints (1094741) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @07:51AM (#38849161)

      What makes the technology used for Siri novel is not the individual components, but the way in which they work together.

      Siri is the synergy of three distinct but related challenges in artificial intelligence: (1) How do we get a computer to correctly parse the syntax of natural human speech? (2) How do we get a computer to understand the meaning of a sentence in some specified human language? (3) How do we get a computer to provide a relevant response to a meaningful but potentially vague command? Siri arguably is the first attempt at doing all three of these things in near real-time for a very broad space of possible inputs. However, it should be stressed that by no means is it perfect at any of these tasks--indeed, far from it.

      The point to be understood here is that Siri is not merely about voice transcription, nor is it about the transfer of voice input. That is just one part of the process. The next part is using the result of its transcription algorithm as input to a natural language processing engine that likely uses various other statistical methods to pick out certain words, analyze the grammatical structure of the input, and determine the sentence's most likely intent. This is what Wolfram|Alpha attempts to do. The final part is to have the computer search what resources are available to it and provide data or perform an action that (hopefully) is what the user wanted. None of these steps are trivial.

      Many of the criticisms of Apple's involvement in Siri's development have been misplaced. I've heard people say how Apple weren't the innovators of the technology, or how Siri isn't anything special or new. And it's true--Apple didn't develop Nuance's speech recognition technology, nor did they invent Wolfram|Alpha's processing algorithms. But the innovation occurred when they decided they wanted to put these things together, put it on a smartphone, and try to make it do things intuitively and seamlessly. Whether it actually works as well as we might want it to is another question.

      In so far as its availability on various iPhone models, I think it's rather obvious by now that Apple made a business decision to restrict Siri's availability to the iPhone 4S. It has nothing to do with hardware/software limitations. Apple knows it has a coveted feature and they're not afraid to say, "hey, if you want it, you're going to have to buy the newest iPhone," even though there's no technological reason that Siri can't run on older devices. It's a dick move for sure, but the history of computing--indeed, the history of capitalism--is littered with similarly annoying tactics. I'm sure some iPhone 4 users are hoping that after the iPhone 5 is announced and the shine fades on the iPhone 4S, that Apple will somehow find it in their hearts to put Siri on the iPhone 4. But I wouldn't hold my breath. These phones are Apple's bread and butter--they will do whatever it takes to make sure you want to buy a new one after each and every upgrade cycle. The only pressure they're feeling to make the hardware better is coming from the Android device manufacturers.

      I think it's pretty clear by now that I'm neither an Apple fanboy, nor an Apple hater. I find such binary thinking to be simplistic, naive, and largely irrelevant in light of the fact that there are no completely honest actors in the technology sector, and there never will be.

      • Re:Siri (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SpinyNorman (33776) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @10:43AM (#38849711)

        The point to be understood here is that Siri is not merely about voice transcription, nor is it about the transfer of voice input. That is just one part of the process. The next part is using the result of its transcription algorithm as input to a natural language processing engine that likely uses various other statistical methods to pick out certain words, analyze the grammatical structure of the input, and determine the sentence's most likely intent. This is what Wolfram|Alpha attempts to do. The final part is to have the computer search what resources are available to it and provide data or perform an action that (hopefully) is what the user wanted. None of these steps are trivial.

        Actually you've entirely missed what's at the core of Siri, and you're also wrongly giving Wolfram Alpha the credit for figuring out the intent of what you're asking Siri to do!

        The core technology of Siri is the artificial intelligence component which was originally developed by SRI (S.R.I = "Siri") under a US army DARPA contract. The SRI project was called "Cognitive Agent that Learns and Organizes" (CALO), and was then taken by the startup company Siri who extended it into what it is today. Siri was then aquired by Apple.

        The DARPA/SRI/Siri AI component is where the intelligence of Siri comes from - how it figures out what you mean (maintaining the conversation context and asking for clarification if needed) and how to do it. In some cases it might do what you ask by interfacing with applications (calendar, e-mail, etc) on your iPhone, in other cases it may do a web search or go to Wolfram Alpha to find or calculate information you've asked for, and in other cases it goes out to specialized web service to do "real world" stuff like ordering taxis or making restaurant reservations that you've asked for.

        Wolfram Alpha has nothing to do with the smarts of Siri - it's merely one service that Siri uses once it's done the hard part of figuring out what you want and determining that Alpha is the appropriate way to do what you want. It's no different to Siri sometime using web search to get info for you if it figures out that's what it needs to do.

  • The H1 actually gets fairly good mileage for its size because its diesel... the H2 is the 10 MPG beast. You know, just splitting hairs ;-)

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Because the H1 was actually a HumVee, and the H2 was a converted pick-up truck. Guess that doesn't really matter though, when all any HumVee owner cares about is ostentatious status displays.

  • by tgibbs (83782) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @10:29AM (#38849661)

    The silly notion that Siri is a data hog has been all over the internet, although if you think about it, it is obviously ridiculous. All Siri sends upstream some highly compressed voice, which doesn't take much bandwidth, and all it gets back is text and some simple commands to Apple's apps, which also doesn't take much bandwidth. Ars Technica measured the amount of data Siri sends back and forth, and it's just as modest as you'd expect. [arstechnica.com]

    So why are owners of the iPhone 4s using more data? Apples latest version of iOS, which was released about the same time as the 4s, dispenses with the requirement to tether the iPhone to a computer running iTunes, for the first time making it possible to use an iPhone as a stand-alone device. You can back up your iPhone and even install iOS updates wirelessly. In addition, Apple's Match service will stream your entire music library to your iPhone wirelessly via Apple's iCloud. Owners of earlier iPhone models are already set up to do these things via a wired connection to iTunes, and many of them doubtless have continued to do it this way even if they've upgraded to iOS version 5. But new owners of the iPhone 4s (of which there are a great number, based on Apple's quarterly report) are probably mostly using their iPhones as stand-alone devices, which is now the default. And of course, this involves more data usage, of which the biggest contributor is likely music streaming.

    So Siri has almost nothing to do with the increased data usage of iPhone 4s owners--it just happens to correlates with people who are using their iPhones untethered.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      "You can back up your iPhone and even install iOS updates wirelessly"

      Via wifi only.

  • by nick_davison (217681) on Saturday January 28, 2012 @02:39PM (#38850865)

    People who most heavily use a phone are the most likely to upgrade.
    People who less heavily use a phone care less and don't upgrade as much.

    The iPhone 4s has the heavy users who've migrated.
    Leaving the iPhone 4 with still fairly heavy users who're stuck in a contract and so it's not quite worth upgrading.
    Leaving the iPhone 3Gs users who are the ones who could've upgraded if they cared but their phone works and they don't do much with it anyway so why bother.

    So clearly it's the new feature, Siri, on the iPhone 4s and not that heavier users are simply the ones who upgrade.

    In other news, the s on the logo uses 20% more bandwidth! Scientists investigating bandwidth savings if only Apple would consider other lower bandwidth letters!

    Although, sadly, as most blogs have discovered: Sensational headlines, even if untrue, do get attention. And scientists, even more sadly, are learning that attention, even in place of good science or basic statistical understanding, gets research funding.

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