Cutting down data usage with Onavo

Recently we have grown a bond with our mobile phone. Constantly uploading photos from our phones , checking Twitter , replying to facebook comment. It has become a part of our life. Unfourtantely , these tiny devices do consume a lot of data if you have a lot of Internet-enabled applications. Recently applications such as WhatsApp are becoming popular among smartphone users with data plan as they find it is relatively cheaper. However they do not realize (or realized it too late) that it is consuming a lot of data.

There are providers (carriers) which offers Unlimited data plan and others which do offer limited data plan. In Malaysia for instance , we have three main providers which do offer data plans. Each with its own various pros and cons. For instance DiGi gives you “unlimited” data in a sense that once you have reached your limit – you can still get to enjoy your Internet without paying extra , however at a slower speed. Others like Maxis , would simply charge you per kilobyte once you’ve reached your allocated monthly quota.
What is the solution for these hard core users ? Cut down their usage on smartphone and move back to dumbphone. This is where Onavo kicks in (no its not Maria Ozawa , I know it sounds something like that famous Japanese porn star actress , but certainly its not) . Its an application for iPhone users (sorry Android users !) that allows data to be compressed , thus reducing mobile data usage by 80% (In other words if your data plan is 1GB , that means you could enjoy a whopping 2-3GB more out of your 1GB data plan) . Best of all it is currently , FREE

So I put it to the test. I tested it on my iPhone 4 with Maxis on a 500MB data plan. According to the developers , here are the list of supported mobile providers that will work with Onavo. Thankfully , it works with all 3 major telco providers here in Malaysia !
I read that it will work with any iOS 4.x devices such as iPad , iPhone 3GS , iPhone 4 . I am not too sure about iPhone 3G as it does not support multi-tasking.
The Basics & The Interface
I thought it was going to be rocket science to use. But this application is very simple to use. All I had to go is go to App Store , search for it and download. Install it and bam its done.  To activate its magical functions , all I had do is just tap

Thats about it. It works in the background. The moment I fire up Safari , Twitter for iPhone , Facebook , Google Maps  , Safari  it will automatically compress data . Just to add that it does not compress WiFi data , it only does it for your data connection !
How it actually works ?
Like I’ve said , it compresses your data . In other words , this application would route your Internet connection to onavo’s server which this whole entire magical compression thingy takes place , thus giving you the compressed data. Conventionally  , this is how you are connected to the Internet

Your iPhone ——> Your Mobile Service Provider Server (In my case its Maxis) —-> The Internet
Your iPhone —-> onavo’s server —-> The Internet

There are of course some “side-effects” of using compression. For instance your images will look horrible , this is because images are compressed in order to save your data usage. I’ve provided a comparison for you to judge.

Picture of Petronas Twin Towers without Data Compression

Picture of Petronas Twin Towers with Data Compression
Picture of Petronas Twin Towers with Data Compression

Another problem for us Malaysians is that , since the server is located in United States , it takes a bit a while for pages to load. It pretty much slows down your 3G connection , in theory it should speed up by 5-10 fold as now the pages are compressed but due to the fact that data has to go through onavo servers which are located in US , it takes a bit a while. If you dont mind waiting extra but at the cost of saving your precious data , by all means go ahead. However if you are talking about you always want able to lookup something in Google within 3 seconds , you may face some problem .
If you are wondering if there is anyway to turn off data compression and still use onavo for email compression and stuff , yes there is an option
Security , Privacy and other concerns
No doubt that a lot of questions may raise from people , especially with the recent news of how your iPhone spies on your daily chores . Its up to you or not if you trust these people and it boils down to what kind of data are we talking about. If you are dealing with something strict and confidential , by all means avoid using this application. Your data is sensitive and for this case you should be using a VP N or some sort of secure connection on top of your 3G connection !
If you are talking about an average user who surfs the net on his phone , then I would say that is relatively safe. But again I can’t be deciding that for you. Is it up for you to decide and after all Internet is not a safe place. Moment you step foot on Internet , your identity is somewhat exposed
To conclude , the application works pretty well. It is currently FREE and it works as advertised. It does save your data usage by compressing data. However it does that at an expense of image quality (For images) and other quirks such as slow speeds for Malaysians as their servers are located overseas. But if you are really hard core data user and you need to save on your bill , or if you are going to travel overseas and plan to get a limited data plan , this application is for you. No doubt. The developers certainly did a good job.
To developers – If you are reading this , if its possible set up your server in Asia region as well as it could help folks from this region to enjoy the services that you are providing as well !

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