iOS 9.3 will take the mystery out of Wi-Fi Assist

By

Wi-Fi Assist may be chewing up your data.
In iOS 9.3, Wi-Fi Assist will give you more of a heads-up.
Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

Apple is increasing transparency on its Wi-Fi Assist feature in iOS 9.3, which is currently available in public beta. And it’s not just doing it for your sake.

The occasionally controversial iPhone setting is getting a minor but potentially super-useful upgrade that will not only make it more user-friendly, but could also save the company a ton of money in legal costs.

Apple introduced Wi-Fi Assist in iOS 9, and its purpose is to deal with sudden drops in signal strength. If your phone’s Wi-Fi connection takes a hit, it will automatically use cellular data to back it up. And that’s where the problems arose.

As it turns out, not everybody has unlimited data with their phone plans, and some customers have to pay extra once they reach a defined threshold (who knew?). And the fact that Wi-Fi Assist was turned on by default didn’t take any serpents out of this snake pit. One teen got a bit of a shock after his wireless provider hit him (or more likely, his parents) with a $2,000 bill from data overages.

Some other customers are seeking $5 million in damages in a class-action lawsuit due to the high bills they’re blaming (somewhat accurately) on Wi-Fi Assist.

Although it sure sounds like it from these stories, Wi-Fi Assist doesn’t run all the time. Apple issued a support document explaining the feature that details exactly how and when it activates. It won’t turn on when you’re roaming, for example, and it only works on foreground apps (it isn’t compatible with background downloads). It also doesn’t work with “some” audio and video streaming apps, and that’s great news because Netflix and YouTube use insane amounts of data if you use them all day at a boring job like I used to.

The new and improved Wi-Fi Assist in iOS 9.3 will include a quick readout in its Settings telling you how much data it’s used. Here’s what it looks like in the current beta (via MacRumors):

Wi-Fi Assist in iOS 9-3
Yeah, that’s much better.
Photo: MacRumors

While this won’t help with Apple’s current legal problems, it may prevent some in the future.