O2 ask iPhone users to use wi-fi instead of 3G - are apps killing the network?
A couple of shortcomings (as highlighted in our review on Monday) and the £10 monthly subscription aside, the Spotify iPhone app seems to have been well received.
Unlike the excellent WunderRadio and other streaming apps, Spotify has received a massive amount of mainstream attention - it's a rarity for a single app to be discussed on breakfast television or appear on the front page of the BBC News portal - not unless in involves shaking infants to death. The onslaught of attention has seen the app sit pretty at the top of the iTunes chart since it was released; although plenty of iPhone users will download it without being aware of the subscription barrier, a modest proportion will have been converted to paying customers.
So what do O2 make of all of this? After all, they won't have been involved in the negotiations between Apple and Spotify, and now they're having to service a popular app that is eating up a massive amount of 3G bandwidth - the app only needs wi-fi to cache offline playlists, but it can stream constantly over a 3G connection. That's potentially a lot of bandwidth usage by a single customer, isn't it?
This morning we received an email from Bitterwallet reader Lewis:
"After Spotify came out on Monday for the iphone I have been using it a lot - I've probably used about a gig of mobile data in the few days since release. Today I got a text from O2:
"Get the most out of apps and the web by using Wi-Fi, at home or out and about. It's quicker, especially for apps like video, and really easy to set up. Tap the link and we'll take you through the steps. http://shop.o2.co.uk/update/wifi.html
"I checked with a colleague who is also with o2 and has an iPhone but has not been using Spotify and he didn't receive the message."
I downloaded the Spotify app on Monday to review it for Bitterwallet, but I haven't used the app for streaming, just for caching offline playlists using wi-fi. I received the same text on Monday night. And we weren't the only ones; a quick check of Twitter shows other Spotify users received the same text:
Everyone's first thought concerned a grand conspiracy involving O2 keeping tabs on exactly which apps we'd downloaded. However we've checked with over a dozen other owners - it's hit-and-miss whether they received the text, regardless of whether they use Spotify or not.
The timing is significant though. Spotify is arguably the highest profile iPhone app to be launched so far in the UK, and those keen enough to pay the subscription will hammer it. Absolutely hammer it. Then you consider the dozens of apps that stream, upload or download audio and video, and all the other functionality that can be carried out as easily over 3G as it can over wi-fi. O2 have been hit by a series of minor outtages in recent weeks, and now are suddenly very keen to push iPhone customers away from using 3G wherever possible, or as one customers put it on Twitter: "they might as well be begging us not to use the network too much".
Are O2 simply trying to better manage their users, or is the iPhone and the likes of Spotify squeezing the life out of their service?
[UPDATE - O2 have been in touch with our friends at TechRadar to tell them that sending a text suggesting people use wi-fi within 12 hours of the Spotify app launching was entirely coincidental: "We regularly update our customers with service messages. We have recently had an increase in calls into customer service about setting up Wi-Fi so we decided to send a text to our customers giving practical advice about setting up Wi-Fi on the iPhone. We appreciate many customers already know how to do this and apologise if they felt the message was not relevant to them." So it was for the good of the customer after all, and O2 in no way benefits from their customers sucking up less bandwidth. There you go.]