November 17, 2012

Apple’s Terrible Podcast App Is Eating All Of Your Data!

Audio steaming users of iOS 6, beware! A buggy audio framework in Apple’s latest mobile OS may be the cause of all those data overages.

Last month, some users began to notice some crazy high data usage and even some overages, even when their iPhones were connected to a Wi-Fi network. Soon after, Verizon issued a carrier update forCDMA iPhones and promised their customers that they wouldn’t be charged for this excessive use of data.

Just when all seemed to be well on the data front, a new report today suggests that it’s that damned Podcasts app (and other audio apps like it) which are sending users’ data soaring past their limits, and iOS 6.0.1 may not have fixed the problem.

In a nice little turn about, this problem may have even been discovered by the fine folks at This American Life, the public radio podcast which was also responsible for calling out Mike Daisey, the monologuist who had fabricated much of his story about the tragedies and poor working conditions at Foxconn earlier this year.

According to PRX Labs, who works with the Public Radio Exchange, these iOS 6 iPhones are using up so much data because they’re downloading the same audio stream multiple times.

In a recent blog post, PRX Labs say they noticed “a pretty intense spike in traffic” on 2 of their public radio podcasts shortly after Apple released iOS 6. This pleased the team, as Apple was featuring the 99% Invisible podcast heavily in the Podcasts app, thereby bringing in more listeners and increasing the traffic.

This American Life also noticed a similar spike, sending PRX to begin an investigation into the matter.

The lab began watching their traffic closely and noticed something peculiar: When an iOS 5 device was streaming a podcast from their servers, it would download the file once, play through, and that was that. When an iOS 6 device contacted the servers, however, the device would continually request the file, even downloading it multiple times throughout the duration of the stream.

“The player appears to get into a state where it makes multiple requests per second and closes them rapidly. Because the ranges of these requests seem to overlap and the requests themselves each carry some overhead, this causes a single download of an MP3 to use significantly more bandwidth than in iOS 5. In one case, the playback of a single 30MB episode caused the transfer of over 100MB of data,” explains the PRX team in their blog post.

“The strangest bit of behavior happens when the ranges on these requests reach the end of the file. We were able to consistently see that when the file has completed downloading, it begins downloading again from the beginning of the file and continues for as long as one is streaming the file. This means that, for as long as one is listening to audio being streamed with iOS 6, it is using significant amounts of data.”

Though it’s easy to pinpoint this blame on the Podcasts app, (possibly the worst app Apple has ever released) the PRX team suggests this bug lies within the audio framework of iOS 6 itself. Therefore, any app which streams audio, Pandora, Spotify, Stitcher and the like, is likely to burn through your data plan. The PRX Lab team wasn’t able to reproduce this problem in iOS 5 or iOS 6.0.1, but some users are still complaining about erroneous data charges after Apple’s latest iOS update.

This writer spends much of his time streaming all sorts of audio feeds and has noticed his data surge past normal usage in iOS 6 and even in iOS 6.0.1.

Let’s hope Apple fixes this one real soon. Data is not cheap.

Image Credit: anaken2012 / Shutterstock

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