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iOS 9 Wi-Fi Assist feature ramping up mobile data plan charges without warning customers

Tue 29 Sep 2015

One of the innovations in Apple’s recently released iOS9 operating system is currently coming in for significant criticism because of its unannounced cost to mobile consumers on fixed data plans. The new ‘Wi-Fi Assist’ feature draws no attention to itself, sitting like a latecomer to class at the bottom of the ‘Cellular’ tab in Settings. However the feature is set to ‘on’ by default both in the iPhone 6S, which ships with iOS 9, and in earlier iPhones which have upgraded to Apple’s latest mobile OS.

What is drawing attention to Wi-Fi assist are the massive hikes in data usage currently maxing out the fixed-cap mobile data plans of many Apple customers. The new feature is designed to bolster the phone’s data connection to weak Wi-Fi networks by augmenting the signal with mobile data. On a fixed data plan many consumers are finding that their mobile data usage has become unpredictable, in many cases doubling or tripling since the switch to iOS 9.

Ironically Apple’s implementation of mobile data settings on a per-app basis in iOS 9, which is intended to stop this kind of unexpected data usage from happening, has also been criticised recently, with reports suggesting that this is actually preventing users’ apps from being able to connect to the network at all.

iOS users can select which of their installed apps can use mobile data, and an apparent bug in the first release of iOS 9, affecting users who have upgraded from an earlier version, is reported to prevent apps which had no network access permitted before from ever being allowed to access the network. Users who are starting out completely fresh with iOS 9 will not experience this problem, since they will be installing (or re-installing) their apps clean and building (or re-building) new settings. But migrated app settings seem fixed in stone for a significant number of pre-existing apps that the user may have installed, and this is expected to be addressed in the next minor release of iOS.

Other users have also reported a diverse range of data-related bugs with the new OS, including a complete block on connectivity and, more critically, the complete death of the iPhone on using the ‘Slide to upgrade’ button.

Bugs do happen in major releases, and no-one is ever happy about them, but a certain degree of fatalism is accepted as necessary for early adopters. However the ‘Wi-Fi Assist’ issue seems an extraordinarily arrogant and short-sighted move, even on the part of a software developer and hardware manufacturer as dictatorial and inflexible as Apple.

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