I once teased an American friend about the fact that only 36% of Americans hold a passport, compared to 83% of Brits. He quite rightly pointed out that in America you can fly for six hours and still be in the same country – Seattle to Miami, for example – while Brits can fly for an hour or so and be in any one of a dozen different countries. (I later did a bit of Googling and found he could even have said 11 hours: New York to Honolulu.)
For that reason, this feature request may be most relevant to Europeans and frequent business travellers, but I think it’s one that would at least fall into the nice-to-have category for anyone who travels.
The issue is mobile roaming charges. Use your iPhone in your own country and all-you-can-eat calls and texts are typically pretty affordable, with data being the main thing that determines how much you pay for your plan. But however much you pay for data at home, that’s nothing compared to roaming charges overseas …
There are some data-roaming packages around, but these tend to be for ridiculously small amounts of data. Exceed that data allowance, or just use your phone without an international data plan, and you can easily find yourself paying $200 plus per gigabyte for international data usage.
I once notched up $50 in fees in around half-an-hour in Cape Town doing nothing more than a bit of Facebooking – because switching on data roaming had allowed every other app on my phone to start doing whatever background tasks they desired.
There is some hope on the horizon. In Europe, for example, roaming charges are being abolished altogether in the 27 member countries next year. From the middle of 2017, anyone in Europe will be able to use their smartphone in any EC country on exactly the same terms as in their own country. Same inclusive minutes/texts/data, and same overage costs.
There are also mobile carriers with a more enlightened attitude to roaming. Three, for example, has a Feel At Home program, where there are no roaming charges in 19 countries. It’s one of the main reasons I choose Three as the carrier for my iPad SIM.
But for other countries, and other carriers, mobile data roaming fees can be eye-wateringly expensive – and this is a problem Apple could help solve with one simple change to iOS.
Go into Settings > Mobile Data and you’ll find that you can choose whether or not to allow mobile data usage on an app-by-app basis. The problem is, you can’t exercise that degree of control when it’s most useful: when travelling abroad. Under Settings > Mobile Data > Mobile Data Roaming, you have exactly two options: on or off.
Now sure, you could first toggle off mobile data on every app before toggling on roaming, and then just toggle on the apps you want to use, but you’d then have to toggle them all back on again when you got home afterwards – and go through the same tedious process every time you left the country. Not great for business travellers, or those of us fortunate enough to live in a country where flying for an hour or two on a budget airline can see us reach about 20 different countries.
If Apple offered the same app-by-app toggling under Data Roaming, I could simply choose the essential apps (hey, Facebook is essential!) I was willing to pay for even if they were going to be expensive, while ensuring that no other apps were quietly racking up large bills in the background. I would do that process exactly once, then every time I arrive in a country, I simply flick the Data Roaming toggle on and those same apps are authorized.
It wouldn’t even be much work for Apple as it already has the code and UI for app-by-app toggling: it simply needs to replicate it for roaming.
I’d like to take the credit for this idea, but that credit actually belongs to 9to5Mac reader Fabian from Zurich, who suggested it to me. It was simply one of those ideas I found blindingly obvious in retrospect.
If you travel abroad, take our poll to let us know whether or not you’d find this feature useful, and – as always – share your thoughts in the comments.