Apple has set a good example by restricting bandwidth-intensive apps to Wi-Fi; even its own apps, such as the FaceTime videoconferencing app supported in the iPhone 4 and late-2010 iPod Touch. As network capabilities improved, some of these have been allowed to use 3G (Skype being an example) -- a measured approach that prevents oversaturation and disappointing usage.
Fortunately, tiered pricing makes customers smarter about their usage. If bandwidth is free, they'll use it wastefully, just as people leave the tap running when their water supply is unmetered. The truth is that there are few videos that need to be streamed at the moment; it makes more sense to upload them over Wi-Fi or locally upload to the device with USB before they're needed, using the good old-fashioned approach of syncing. Games can also be preloaded, with the over-the-air components being just the updates on each players' moves.
I've been pleased to see that after the initial outcry, life continues for both smartphone users and developers. The iPad -- which never had unlimited pricing -- is chock-full of innovative apps, and the same is true for the iPhone. Tiered 3G pricing is hardly a new phenomenon; it's routine in much of the world, so developers targeting European or Asian customers already had to be bandwidth-savvy. I'm sure as other U.S. carriers shift to tiered pricing (Verizon Wireless has suggested it will at some point), U.S. developers will get bandwidth-savvy as well.
If not, they'll find their apps suffering the rightful fate of big SUVs such as the Hummer: an indulgent fad abandoned quickly by users once the bill comes due.
This article, "Limited 3G bandwidth is good for mobile apps," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Gruman et al.'s Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com.