Saturday, June 21, 2014

Dad’s iPad Air Mystery - Resolved

Dad had purchased a very nice 4th generation iPad Retina for his wife some time ago.

She loved it and would use it primarily to catch up on emails, let the little nieces play games on it, maybe watch a saved movie or TV show while traveling. It was the Wi-Fi only model.

Sadly, while bustling about the kitchen, Dad knocked it off the island and it fell onto their tile floor.

It landed on a corner, denting the aluminum case inward by several millimeters, and cracking the glass in the black masking area in that corner.

Other than the cosmetic damage and cracked glass corner, it worked fine and the touch sensor and Retina display were no worse for wear.  Some well placed tape protected fingers and kept the glass shards from falling out.

Dad felt bad although his wife took it in stride and after some teasing, just continued to use it.

Fast forward to about a month ago when Dad finally decided to replace it for his wife’s birthday.

After some consultation, he upgraded to what she originally “really” wanted. This time it was an iPad Air with Wi-Fi and a cellular data plan. Now she wasn’t tied to using it just at home and the school’s Wi-Fi but could fully use it on the road to check her mail, etc. (Yes, I suppose we could have tethered the original one to her iPhone to piggy-back on that cellular data but she really wanted an “all-in-one” device connection.

Dad is a good sport.

We backed up her original device and then restored most of her items to the new one without fuss. She was thrilled.

The original cracked Wi-Fi-only iPad found a second home with me (sweet) after a device wipe. For now I picked out the remaining shards of glass from the dinged corner, then put a layer of super-clear packing tape over that damaged corner, colored it with a black Sharpie, then put another layer of super-clear packing tape over it again. For the untrained eye it isn’t noticeable at all. Maybe I will try to replace the glass myself later…or put a thin layer of putty in the “floor” of the now-glass-free area, then fill it in with a layer of clear epoxy for a more permanent fix. Minor details.

So now the stage has been set…

Dad called me yesterday at work. He had got his bill from AT&T and the data usage charge for the billing period showing on the device was just over 650 MB.  That’s pretty small potatoes to me. I carry a 3 GB data plan on each of our iPhones.

Bad for Dad however, as he is a bit more frugal and has just a 250 MB data plan on the iPad.

That resulted in an unexpected 400 MB of data usage; with overage charges applied accordingly.

So we discussed why it could have been suddenly so high.

First thing that came to mind was that the Wi-Fi connection wasn’t set up correctly and the device was using cellular data rather than their home Wi-Fi connection. I walked him though the Settings, but we were able to confirm it was active on their Wi-Fi network just fine.

“Running” apps can leak data, and I always close out any active apps that I am not using on my iPhone and iPad just out of habit…and to save a few bits of battery as well.

Dad apparently wasn’t aware of this so when I showed him how to check (iOS 7) double-tap the home button then swipe up to close them, he was amazed at all the apps that were loaded and running.

Looking at the apps seen, there were a few that “might” be data-leak culprits (email attachments and/or push notifications), but not really any that I would expect to pull down 400 MB + of data in a month.  That seemed to me more like an iOS software upgrade package.

After talking through it more, Dad decided he would follow up with the AT&T store reps to see if they could drill into his bill with him. He doesn’t use the AT&T online site or an AT&T iOS app. If he did, he could have gone into the data usage status for that device which will show how much cellular data is used on a daily basis for each device. If you haven’t looked, it is pretty cool and helpful to understand your usage patterns. On-line account management via the web or apps still seem a bit dodgy for him…so we just roll with it old-school for now.

Dad called me back that night with his findings.

The AT&T store rep took a look at his account and then the device.  When they went into the Safari app, they found it was closed out, but when re-launched, about a bazillion page “tabs” open. Dad and his wife didn’t seem to realize with the Safari for iOS gui you may not catch that you have a bazillion tabs open. (With the Chrome browser for iOS app it’s a bit more apparent.)  More than a few were for their church’s web-page, which -- wait for it -- hosts streaming and playable video content.  Drilling into the iPad’s detail setting page for app data usage confirmed it was the Safari web browser that was the offending eater of almost all of that 650 MB data. I had forgotten about that detail info view while talking to him earlier.  More. Apparently even though Safari wasn’t “running” it was still periodically communicating and pulling down media files…which would account for the excessive MB usage rates seen.

So Dad and his wife got another lesson about closing out tab/pages in Safari as well.

All is well and Dad was a good sport to chalk it up to a learning experience.

So…mystery cellular data usage solved…mind those Safari page tabs and monitor your data/app data usage periodically for good measure to look for developing trends.


--Claus V.

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