Tips for reducing data usage on Apple hardware.

The four Macs, six iOS devices, Apple TV, VoIP telephone, and numerous other connected devices in the house present a challenge. Unplugging the satellite modem would have worked, but at considerable inconvenience. Instead, I decided to take multiple less-draconian measures:

Turn off automatic updates. So far this month, I’ve downloaded more than 14GB of updates for Apple software alone on a single Mac. Having that happen behind your back when you’re running low on data isn’t wise. On a Mac, go to System Preferences > App Store or Software Update (earlier versions) and uncheck everything under Automatically Check for Updates, plus Automatically Download Apps Purchased on Other Macs. On an iOS device, go to Settings > iTunes & App Store and turn off Updates. (While you’re at it, you might want to turn off iTunes Match and automatic downloads for Music, Apps, and Books.) You’ll still be notified when updates are available, and can download them manually as needed.

Uncheck the highlighted items here to prevent stealth downloads of software updates.

Use iTunes for iOS backups. I had already backed up my iOS devices to iCloud, but during my data-constrained weeks I had to restore two devices. That meant downloading many gigabytes of data from Apple’s servers. Had I backed up locally to iTunes, I wouldn’t have faced that problem. To configure an iOS device for iTunes sync, plug it into your Mac with a USB cable, select the device in iTunes, select Summary, and then select This Computer under Automatically Back Up.

Turn off My Photo Stream. Whenever you snap a photo with your iOS device, My Photo Stream copies it to iCloud and then down to your other devices. Consider turning it off temporarily. On a Mac, go to System Preferences > iCloud, click Options next to Photos, and uncheck My Photo Stream. On an iOS device, go to Settings > iCloud > Photos and turn off Upload to My Photo Stream. (In iOS 8.1, also turn off iCloud Photo Library.)

Stop excessive streaming. Painful as it may be, stop using your Apple TV—or use it only to play video stored on a local Mac or iOS device. Streaming audio and video from sources like iTunes and Netflix consumes loads of data.
If you have Sky+ record rather than use Catch Up TV

Choose voice over video. Video calls using Skype, FaceTime, Google+ Hangouts, and similar services use a lot more data than voice calls or text messages.

Watch online backups. When you’re data-constrained, consider excluding large files such as virtual machines, movies, and big disk images from cloud backups. Back those up to a local hard drive instead.

Borrow bandwidth. I took my MacBook Pro to coffee shops and the library, using their free Wi-Fi to download software updates, back up files, and do other bandwidth-intensive tasks—and turned off those services while at home. Had I asked, one of our neighbors might also have lent us a cup of Wi-Fi.

Switch to mobile. Our iPhone plans have data caps too, but they offer a bit of a buffer. By switching off Wi-Fi on the phones (Settings > Wi-Fi) and using cellular data for most email and Web browsing, we trimmed our cable data usage a bit. Tethering an iPhone to a Mac using Settings > Personal Hotspot is another option, but would have quickly overwhelmed our cellular data plans.

Check Activity Monitor. If you suspect your Mac is using too much bandwidth but don’t know which app is responsible, open Activity Monitor, click the Network tab, and click Sent Bytes or Rcvd Bytes to sort the list of apps by how much data you’re sending or receiving. Turn off or change settings on apps that are overdoing it.

Activity Monitor’s Network tab tells you how much data each app sends and receives.

I hope this helps you save your data usage if the need arises in the future.


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