Running low on storage sucks. As I’m sitting typing this, I’m deleting files off of the external drive I store video on so I have room for new clips in the future, because I’m nearly out of storage. Nobody likes seeing the “low storage” warning on their devices, and it’s even more frustrating when it happens on your smartphone, since there’s already so little room on there to begin with. At least I had a whole terabyte to go through before almost filling my external hard drive. On my phone, there’s only 32 GB to begin with, not even factoring in what’s allotted for the system image — much easier to fill quickly. But even then, I’m doing better than most people. The standard offering from most smartphone OEMs is still just 16 GB of internal storage … Why?

It’s better than when 8 GB was standard?

htcinspire4G
Oh man, remember this thing? I sure do.

A few years back, 16 GB of internal storage was actually an upgrade for most phones. Phones like the iPhone 3G and the Galaxy S were shipping with 8 GB ROM out of the box, and if you wanted 16 GB or more … well, you’d have to pay extra. Hell, my first Android phone was the HTC Inspire 4G (or Desire HD, for those across the pond) with only 4 GB internal. But there were a few big differences back then that made this a bit more acceptable. Nearly every phone at the time accepted a microSD card (iPhone excluded, of course). Suddenly, your 8 GB phone could turn into a 16 GB, or even a 40 GB phone if you so chose — and usually for much cheaper than the manufacturer would have asked for the upgrade. Not only that, but to compensate for the low internal storage on most phones, you were also able to save most of your apps directly to the microSD card, freeing up space on the phone. This isn’t completely phased out yet, but like the microSD card itself, it’s a feature that’s becoming much more scarce as its usefulness comes into question.

Sure, the 16 GB we see standard now in smartphones, even high-end devices like the iPhone 6, is better than the 8 GB or even 4 GB configurations of the past. But then, just as storage capacity has increased over the years, so too has the size of apps. Games used to be small and simple, and maybe take up a few megabytes on your phone. Now, you’re lucky to find a highly detailed game that’s smaller than 300 MB; some of them even exceed a gigabyte. Think about that for a second. If you buy a 16 GB phone, 4 GB or so are probably already occupied by the phone’s software. That leaves you with 12 to play with, and if you’re using your phone for large games … well, depending on the games, you might only be able to install 12 games before you’re out of space! I can’t imagine paying $600 for a phone, only to have to immediately start micromanaging my storage because of a few apps I want to use.

Is cloud storage to blame?

Despite all of this, OEMs are still shipping plenty of 16 GB smartphones, and they’re still selling through them with ease — after all, most people don’t care to ask for more than the standard option, and try to avoid paying any more than they have to upfront. But why, in 2015, isn’t 32 GB yet the standard? Or even 64 GB? Well, one reason could be the promise of the “cloud-everything” world we’re promised by big companies. Whether you have an Android phone, an iPhone, or a Windows Phone, your phone’s software comes with a cloud storage solution, and encourages that you use it. Google Drive, iCloud, One Drive, Dropbox, Mega, Box… There are countless services with which you can store and access your files online. There’s also cloud streaming for music; Spotify, Apple Music, Rdio, Xbox Music, Pandora, etc. It’s debatable that we still see 16 GB default on most phones because the OEMs want to encourage users to move to cloud storage. A lot of people, myself included, have already adopted this lifestyle, after all. I use Google Drive to share files and store important documents. I use Spotify any time I want to listen to music, and I haven’t futzed with local music in years. Google Photos backs up all of my photos to the cloud, and I access them on various devices on a daily basis. But as great and convenient as cloud services can be, there’s still a big issue here: it eats your mobile data with your carrier.

safari-no-dataOf course, depending on your carrier, this may not be an issue. T-Mobile and Sprint both offer unlimited data, and if you’ve been with AT&T or Verizon for a number of years, you might even still be on their grandfathered unlimited offerings (jealous). But not everybody has an unlimited plan, and for those people cloud storage can cost a lot more money than it’s worth. It’s easy to fall in love with the convenience of cloud storage until you’ve run up a paycheck’s worth of overage charges. Not to mention the biggest downfall of cloud computing … dead zones. If you’ve been on a long flight or taken a roadtrip with online radio, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve run into a time where you just couldn’t pull a data connection, meaning all of that music and all of those files are as good as nonexistent for you. Plenty of cloud services target this problem by offering offline mode support, but that doesn’t do you a whole lot of good either if you’re out of space on your phone. As much as I want to stick up for cloud storage and dismiss the need for internal storage altogether, the sad truth is that it’s just not feasible for everybody.

I’d love to see 32 GB become the new standard storage option for smartphones, but what do you think? Are you fine with having 16 GB, or even less? Do you use any alternative storage solutions like cloud services, or do you just use less storage on your phone?

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