To save data on your phone, the web and not apps, may be your best friend

We love them. We use them every minute, every hour, every day. For everything. We have even coined a timeless line: there is an app for everything.

However, if you are very wary of the amount of data your smartphone consumes in any given day, they may not really be your best friend. Good old web may be your newfound buddy if you are really disturbed by the amount of data some of these apps consume.

Let’s face it, apps are notorious data guzzlers. Where they have a free reign and no form of control measures are put in place by the user, they can wreak havoc when it comes to your data bundles consumption.

Makers of popular social networking applications like Facebook and Twitter have taken note of this and are now offering users alternative versions of their main applications. Only that these “alternative apps” are not apps in the way you know apps. They are web-based apps. As such, their core mission aside, they save you some valuable system resources on your device. Like space. And battery life.

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There are native apps and web apps. Native apps are mainly meant for a specific platform like, say, Android, and can be downloaded and installed from an application store, like the Google Play Store. By being made for a specific platform, native apps are able to take full advantage of that particular platform and the device that they have been installed on with all its resources and features. Resources and features like contacts, the compass, the accelerometer, GPS, the camera, data etc.

On the other hand, there are what we call web apps. Web apps are the exact opposite of native mobile apps. They are not meant to run on any specific platform. They are meant to run on a browser. They are not apps as such. They are, basically, websites. Websites that have been made to look and feel like (native) apps. When a user accesses such a website/”app”, they are given an option of pinning/”installing” them on their device’s home screen. Google has a name for these “apps”: Progressive Web Apps.

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Some apps, like the main Facebook app, can grow to as large as over 300 megabytes in size. Of course, the Facebook app’s annoying battery drain is well documented and known to all. For that alone, the Facebook app can be a source of pain in all the wrong places if you have an entry-level smartphone with basic features and specifications.

Here are three alternatives to the three popular social media platforms you may be active in by way of saving on the data used:

1. Twitter Lite

Twitter Lite is a fully functional mobile web app that gives its users the same experience as those who are using the main Twitter app for Android.

Here is the thing. I love Twitter’s app for Android. I really do. It’s simple, loads first, has a night mode nowadays and accessing #trends is not the struggle I have to go through when using my favourite third party apps like Flamingo. But you know what? It’s also full of clutter.

With Twitter Lite (load twitter.com on your mobile browser or just go to mobile.twitter.com directly), you get the same standard Twitter experience, of course, but minus this clutter. What that means is savings when it comes to data consumption since the application is not constantly running in the background anticipating mentions and tweet replies. You’re only on Twitter when you need to and not all the time. Twitter Lite is only “online” when your browser is.

What do you miss? Not much. You can still directly play inline videos if you want to. Upload photos and have your floating tweet compose button. Push notifications, the main source of background activity on most apps, are also available. You are, however, presented with an option to turn them off if you want to (advisable).

The best feature? The data saver toggle. When turned on, images and rich links are deprecated to save you some data. Where there is an image in a tweet you have to click on “Load image” for it to be loaded on your browser. Neat.

2. Instagram mobile web

Here’s the amount of data the Instagram app has consumed on my phone over the last one month:

That’s over 500 megabytes of mobile data used in just a month. It could easily have been over 1GB if I did not have access to Wi-Fi at work. Mind you, I am not even a heavy Instagram user. I usually check out my Instagram timeline like thrice in a week. Mostly when I am bored and need some inspiration. I occasionally post on the platform but it’s only when I have enough material worth sharing to keep this fake image of leading “the good life”. Most times, I keep away from Instagram.

So, I am just here wondering what the statistics of those who consider themselves heavy Instagram users are like. Those who live by double tapping. I happen to follow a lot of football accounts and planespotters at various airports around the world. They post lots of video content. What happens is that the moment you open the app, Instagram caches all that content as it anticipates you skimming through it. Including the videos. As a result, data consumption can easily shoot through the roof.

Instagram recently reported that over 80% of its 700 million users are outside the United States. As such, one of the things it is doing to keep them engaged and attract even more as it chases the magical 1 billion 30-day active user figure is making it easy to use the app even when a network connection is available.

There’s more.

Before this month, there wasn’t much one could do besides being able┬áto catch up with their friends’ latest rendezvous, on Instagram’s mobile website. They could like, search, follow and do all manner of things but upload images. Now they can and it’s brilliant. Just make your way to instagram.com. Content is loaded on demand and there is no anxiety-driven caching and background data consumption.

The only downside is that fans of Instagram stories have to forget about them but that’s a worthy trade-off for the data conscious, I guess.

3. Facebook mobile web

Facebook realized a long time ago that its main Android app was bloated and simply didn’t cut it for many of its users in emerging markets. As such, it set out to address that by releasing several lightweight apps that go slow on the data and don’t take up much space on the devices where they are installed. Even with all that, Facebook’s mobile site is still the go-to place if you are worried about the amount of data the main consumes.

It loads fast, takes care of the basics and it’s still pretty much Facebook as you know it.

There are some downsides to it but those are things you can live without. Like instant articles, news items from various publications that are pre-fetched so that they load fast when clicked on by a user. There are also no stickers when making comments which can be a bummer if you have taken your time to get the best stickers for trolling friends, family and colleagues.

m.facebook.com or simply facebook.com from your mobile browser is all you need to take control of your data usage.

Emmanuel Chenze

Let's just say I know my stuff. I have 7 years experience handling, tinkering with and then writing extensively about Android stuff. Sometimes it is exciting, sometimes it is not; things can get stale with nothing new to show but I live for each one of those moments. Have something Android-related that you believe I need to have a look at? Hit me up: echenze@androidkenya.com