Now that 128GB is here, Android needs to re-evaluate microSD cards
Back in the early “two point something” versions of Android, most smartphones came with microsd card slots. Sure, cards were a lot smaller back then — around 8GB or so. This was enough for us to store some music on, and even to install apps onto. We really needed that space, too. Smartphones themselves didn’t include all that much on-board storage — the Nexus One only included 4GB, and much of that was occupied by the operating system and core apps.
Since then, our phones have gotten faster and have at least doubled their internal storage. Modern flagships contain 16GB, 32GB, or even 64GB of storage. While that’s a huge step forward, there are still many reasons why one might want the ability to add a supplemental storage card.
Today one can purchase a 128GB microsd card which will work in virtually any modern Android — provided it has an sdcard slot. That’s where things break down and the experience becomes inconsistent.
Back in the Android 2.something days you could choose not only to install apps to your sdcard, but to move them after their initial installation — either to or from the card. Some apps prohibited users from doing this (some with cause, some seemingly out of spite).
Any app with a widget on one of the homescreens had to be installed into internal memory for the widget to work properly. After that, Google started moving away from sdcards in its Nexus devices, and Android itself began to shed the ability to use sdcards for anything other than picture storage and storage of other data. Apps, and the data to run them (which can be quite large) were restricted to the already limited (and not upgradable) internal storage.
Some OEMs continued to include card slots in their devices. Some of those went with the stock way of handling them, and others built code that would “fix” the way Android was doing things to the manner in which one would expect.
128GB MicroSD Cards
Regardless of the past, 128GB changes everything. You can now put an external storage card into your device that’s double, or even quadruple the size of your internal storage. Put another way: internal storage just isn’t keeping up.
There’s a reason for that: internal storage is simply faster and more reliable than removable storage — though the gap is getting smaller.
On the other hand, apps are getting bigger — a lot bigger. Games are now hundreds of megs in size, with data files that can run into the gigs. Depending on one’s configuration, all this data may be installed to the internal storage, despite the presence of a fairly large removable card.
What’s more, although music might be offloaded to an sdcard, purchased movies are typically held close due to piracy concerns. These files are already large and only getting bigger as SD gives way to HD, and HD will eventually be replaced by 4K.
All these factors combined lead up to a few inevitable conclusions.
While we’ve been fairly vocal about our disappointment with Google failing to include sdcard slots in its Nexus devices, that point has been rendered “moot” by many who claim that Google is simply pushing people to the cloud. While we don’t object to that direction, nor to the conclusion that Google is doing so, we do think the direction is wrong.
Even thought high-speed data is becoming more readily available, more widely spread, and more affordable as technology advances and carriers expand. Google allows books, movies, television shows, and music to be “pinned” for offline storage. That’s great, but they take up space. Without the presence of a card slot, and the ability to save to it, the utility of any device is reduced.
Apps themselves are getting bigger. As such, left unchecked, a device that has plenty of room on it today, may run out of space as apps are updated and consume more bits of the local storage. Since there is no way to upgrade your internal storage (like you can do with a PC or laptop), the only option is to replace your device with one with more on-board storage. That’s both expensive, as well as wasteful.
Until such time as devices with 128GB of on-board storage are standard, manufacturers (including Google’s Nexus brand) should include a standard sdcard slot, and Android should be capable of handling any card in that slot in the manner that customers expect it to behave. That behavior should be consistent across all devices powered by Android.
Your move, Google.