The iPhone’s Storage Space Problem
If you’re an iPhone user, you’ve probably seen the ‘Storage Almost Full’ notification pop up on your device quite a few times. It tells you to manage your storage in settings, but usually all the apps, photos, and videos on your device are things you’d rather not delete. So you’re stuck removing just enough files or apps from your iPhone so that the low storage notification stops appearing, until a week or two later when the problem returns. This is an experience I think most iPhone users have had for quite some time, and it has only gotten worse in recent years. But it’s worth noting that Android users have this issue much less often, and there are a few reasons for that. So today we’re going to find out why Apple appears to be stingy with iPhone storage space, and how that’s effected users.
Limited storage space on iPhones has been a constant dark cloud over the device ever since its release in 2007. And as this problem grew, it only became more apparent to not only the users, but also the competition. Google actually took advantage of this shortcoming back in 2017 by featuring an iOS style ‘Storage Full’ notification in a Pixel 2 commercial. Contrasting the iPhone to their Pixel smartphone, which allowed unlimited storage through their free cloud service. Apple only offered iPhone users 5GB of free iCloud storage, which is enough space for about 1,500 photos. While that may sound like a lot, most users found themselves burning through their 5GB allotment within one year of device ownership. And to make matters worse, Apple only supply’s 5GB of free space for each iCloud account, rather than for each device you own. So you could be taking photos and video on your iPhone, creating iWork documents on your iPad, and storing important files on your Mac with iCloud Drive, and you’d still be supplied with just 5GB of space.
Maybe that amount wasn’t much of an issue back in 2011 when iCloud was released. But a lot has changed almost a decade later, and today iCloud is responsible for storing a lot more data than ever before. Newer features like iCloud Drive, Messages on iCloud, and iCloud Photos have all contributed to iPhone users relying on the service much more heavily than in 2011. So you’d think Apple would begin allowing 5GB of iCloud storage per device or at least increase that amount to ten or fifteen gigabytes per account, but they haven’t. Despite pressure from competitors like Google, who offers 15GB per account, and a cloud manager company called Box, who offers 10GB.
I can’t tell you how many times a relative or friend has texted me asking what they have to do to get that annoying ‘Not Enough Storage’ notification from appearing every time they use their iPhone. But if you take a closer look at that notification, I think it’s easy to understand why Apple hasn’t budged. That pop up only gives the user one solution to their problem: upgrade storage. There’s no button that says don’t show this again or manage iCloud storage. Likely because that wouldn’t work in Apple’s best interest. Instead, they funnel these annoyed, frustrated users to a sales page where they can pay monthly for more storage space. And this is where things get interesting.
Because we all know that since 2015, Apple has been pushing new services onto their users like never before. It started with Apple Music, and continued with Apple Arcade, Apple News Plus, Apple TV Plus, and the Apple Card. But it’s important to note that iCloud subscriptions are absolutely part of the services category which grew 16.5% last year. Not only making it Apple’s fastest growing business, but also more valuable than the iPad and Mac categories combine. And there’s a reason why Apple is making this hard push into services. Since 2015, their hardware sales have been slowing. Resulting in the company exploring new markets and businesses for additional revenue streams. In fact, Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, essentially confirmed this theory in 2015. By that time, Apple had released three generations of iPhones: the 5, 5s, and 6, all with the same base storage of 16GB. And users were getting tired of the limited storage, complaining that is would hardly cost Apple anything to double the iPhone’s base storage to 32GB. Phil Schiller responded to the complaints saying, “The belief is more and more as we use iCloud services for documents and our photos and videos and music, that perhaps the most price-conscious customers are able to live in an environment where they don’t need gobs of local storage because these services are lightening the load.” But of course that frustrated users, who were quick to point out that Apple only offered 5GB of free iCloud storage before they were expected to pay a monthly premium.
But the iPhone’s storage space problem isn’t limited to iCloud. The devices also have significantly less internal space than devices like the Samsung Galaxy S20, which offers 128GB at $1,000 compared to the iPhone 11 Pro’s 64GB at the same price. But it gets even worse. The Google Pixel 4 not only has 128GB of storage, but it also costs $100 less than the iPhone. Finally, the OnePlus 8 offers 256GB of storage for $200 less than the 64GB iPhone 11 Pro. So you can see why most Android users aren’t having much of an issue with storage space. Especially considering some of those devices have something called a microSD slot.
Which is something iPhone users may not know about since it has never been included with Apple’s smartphones. A microSD slot allows users to expand upon their existing internal storage with microSD cards. You can buy them in a variety of sizes, with the maximum amount depending upon the device’s limitations. For example the Galaxy S20 supports microSD cards up to 1TB. That means the S20 could potentially have 1,128GB of internal space, exceeding most desktop computers. Although I should mention that most Android devices, like the OnePlus and Google Pixel, don’t support microSD. And there are good reasons for this. Not only does the SD card slot take up valuable real estate inside the device, but it’s also much slower than internal storage, resulting in uneven performance. Still, if you take lots of photos and videos, it might be worth dealing with those shortcomings rather than being stuck with an iPhone that has no storage left.
But this storage space problem extends beyond Apple’s smartphones to their Mac computers. Although the storage situation is slightly different for the iPhone. Mainly because people use their smartphones much differently than their computers. For example, you wouldn’t carry your MacBook around and take photos or videos with its 720p front facing camera. That’s something you’d do with your iPhone. And users have grown accustom to doing it so much, that it’s the number one reason why their storage is filling up so quickly. Just look at this study from 2014 which suggested that 42% of iPhone users run out of space at least once a month. With 20% running out at least once a week. And that was before the iPhone 6S was released a year later, sporting a new camera system capable of recording 4K video which takes up almost three times more space than 1080p video footage. So of course Apple finally gave in with the iPhone 6S and included 32GB of storage with the base model, right? Well, no. They actually continued to include just 16GB with the 6S, despite the complaints from users, despite it’s ability to record 4K video that requires more space, and despite doubling the size limit of apps from 2 to 4GB.
Now eventually Apple did increase the base storage of the iPhone 7 to 32GB, but the fact that Apple has consistently lagged behind the competition when it comes to storage space is something users are getting tired of. But there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. Because when it comes to the Mac, Apple recently doubled the Mac Mini and MacBook Air’s base storage to 256GB. Which was a surprise especially considering the Air’s $100 price reduction. And when considering the iPhone’s storage, there is a large gulf between the base model’s 64GB and the next step up at 256GB. So I would venture a guess that this year’s Pro-level iPhones will include 128GB of storage with the base model, although I doubt the entry level iPhone 11 replacement will receive the same treatment.