The end of the 100MB limit

I hope you’re old enough to remember this, not long ago there was no such thing as a smartphone. Phones were just phones. Some of them did email, kind of, and some had web browsers, kind of, but that was it. We certainly weren’t doing anything like what we do with our phones these days.

When the iPhone was released, everything changed. Suddenly we had a phone that could do some really interesting things with its data connection. Soon other handsets followed, and before we knew it, we were using our data plans faster than ever before.

This turned out to be a bit of a problem for AT&T. In the space of a day they went from having zero smartphone users on their network, to having millions of smartphone users on their network. From an engineering standpoint, nobody was ready for what happened.

In an attempt to make life easier for AT&T, Apple enforced a 100MB download limit on its phones. In the years since, apps have been able to ignore that limit. Just think how useless Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, or Spotify would be if they had to abide by that limit. Sadly, that doesn’t mean it’s gone.

I’m currently running the iOS 10 Beta on my phone. The word beta means that anything could change between today and the final version. However, one thing I don’t expect to change is the 100MB download limit. It’s still there.

There are generally two occasions when you’ll encounter the limit. When you’re downloading or updating apps, and when you’re trying to stream video you’ve bought from Apple. The app problem can be shrugged off easily. I’ve never had a situation while out and about that could be fixed by updating an app. That doesn’t mean it never happens, it’s just extremely rare.

On the other hand, the streaming video block is very much a problem. If I have Netflix, I can stream it right to my phone over 4G and watch lovely 1080p videos. The same can be said of Amazon Video, Google Play, YouTube, and any other app that streams video. Any other app, except for the Apple Video app. That app is limited to a 100MB download. Rubbish.

Why is that a problem? Well, it means that any video you might want to watch on your phone has to be downloaded and put onto your phone ahead of time, or you need to go looking for a wifi connection. That’s just rubbish. I don’t want to be managing the media on my phone in this day and age. It’s far better for me if all my owned video lives in a cloud service and streams when I need it to. I can’t do that with iTunes videos.

The download limit is a crap solution to a ten year old problem, that isn’t even a problem. The phone networks of today are very much prepared for the kind of use we want to get out of them. Data plans are cheaper, and include much more data than they used to. If there are any problems I can cause my network by streaming movies, then those problems can be caused by streaming those movies from Amazon, every bit as much as by streaming them from Apple. Heck, the production companies probably sent exactly the same file to both Apple, Google, and Amazon.

All this adds up to the end of me buying video from Apple. It’s infuriating, but Apple are the only ones who can do anything about it, and if iOS 10 is anything to go by, they aren’t doing anything about it soon. I keep looking at how they’ve got all nine seasons of The Office for just £29.99 right now. That’s a steal, and I won’t buy it because I know I won’t be able to watch it when I want to. I can’t download, store, and manage, nine seasons of HD video. If I buy those episodes from Amazon, I don’t have to download and manage them, so I’m buying them from Amazon. It’s more expensive given that they don’t have a sale on, but at least I can watch an episode when I’m unexpectedly waiting in my car for some reason.

I’m even growing tired of Apple’s insistence on making all their media platform specific. If you want to watch iTunes on TV then you need an Apple TV. I don’t need any other single function of the Apple TV, making it the most expensive, lowest value for money box connected to my television. I’m sure that some people at Apple have done some very complicated maths and worked out that they make more money by people buying less media, but also buying an Apple TV to play it on, than they do by making it so you can play their media anywhere. I get it, it’s one approach of many. It’s just that now they’re the only people doing it, and it’s getting on my nerves. I also have my example of how that attitude has caused me to just stop buying video from iTunes. That was just one example, but I buy a lot of video, and I haven’t bought any from Apple for months. Remove that 100MB download limit and they’ll probably win me back.