Surely the 16GB iPhone can't survive another year? According to industry experts, it won't. Sean Keach investigates.
It's time for the 16GB iPhone to die. Hardly a controversial statement, I know, but 2016 might be the year it finally happens.
Believe it or not, 16GB was a lot in 2007. Back then, it was the largest capacity of iPhone available. But it became the 'entry-level' option in 2012's iPhone 5 and has remained ever since.
It seems ridiculous when you consider how much has changed. Larger apps, and higher quality photos, videos and music, means 16GB is easily filled. And, let's not forget, the real available storage is more like 11GB given some of that space is reserved for iOS and critical services.
Don't we all know someone who's complained about running out of space on their iPhone? Android fans may snipe about microSD slots all they like, but it doesn't help the loyal iPhone user.
Blizzard's Hearthstone mobile game gobbles up nearly 1GB of storage
“If you look at the way people are using smartphones now, there’s a huge amount of interest in video consumption,” Ben Wood, Chief of Research at CSS Insight, tells us. “That’s massively memory intensive, and one of the biggest challenges beyond battery life that people have on smartphones is memory.”
And that won’t get any better over time. Video encoded at a bit-rate of 8Mbps – YouTube’s recommended standard – works out at 3.6GB per hour of Full HD footage. By the same measure, Ultra HD (4K) video would be four times as large.
While streaming is part of the solution, there’s always a need for local storage, and 16GB is now far from adequate. The size of apps is growing, too. In 2012, the average app size was just 23MB. Today, it’s closer to 50MB.
And that's just an average. A quick sample of an iPhone from the TrustedReviews office – Andy Vandervell's iPhone 6S – revealed the following:
- Music & Podcasts (6GB)
- Photos and Camera (3.1GB)
- Mail (1.9GB)
- Lumino City (983MB)
- Facebook (728MB)
- Twitter (576MB)
- Flipboard (394MB)
- BBC News (297MB)
- Google Maps (168MB)
Less than half that list would fill a 16GB iPhone entirely, leaving no space for the 60 or 70 more apps on Andy's phone. Luckily, he owns a 64GB one, so no problems there. But the growing weight of apps shouldn’t surprise any of us.
“Developers are supporting more operating features, they’re supporting extensions to the phone platform such as watches and car interfaces – these are rolled into the same app,” says Ross Rubin, analyst at App Annie, speaking to TrustedReviews. “In many cases, the capabilities of the apps have simply grown. Over time, the average app size has almost certainly grown.”
The 128GB iPhone 6S Plus is Apple's most expensive handset at £789
So why does the 16GB iPhone still exist?
Because money talks and Apple listens.
According to analysts at IHS, it costs Apple just $6 for 16GB of the NAND flash memory used in the iPhone 6S. And to build a 64GB iPhone, it costs Apple an extra $17 (£12). But Apple is charging $100 (£80) for the difference.
Apple is a business, so margins mean everything – but this profit-chasing means you're being royally ripped off.
That’s why Apple shunned a 32GB option for the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus, opting for 16GB, 64GB, and 128GB storage configurations instead. If you want more memory than the base model – and you almost certainly will – then the lack of a 32GB iPhone makes the pricey 64GB option seem a lot more tempting.
Fortunately, that may not be the case for long.
“It’s highly likely that 32GB would be the new baseline,” says Rubin. According to the App Annie analyst, who believes one of the main reasons to upgrade iPhone memory would be due to Apple’s own software.
“It’s highly likely that a new iPhone would require, if precedent holds, a new version of iOS,” he explains. “A new version of iOS would likely require more storage, and so that would be a motivation to offer a higher capacity.”
Betting on a boost
The good news is that most analysts we spoke to seem to agree that the base storage on your Apple smartphone will increase to 32GB with the iPhone 7.
“I think it’s a pretty good bet,” says Wood. “I think for the next generation of iPhone, it would make a lot of sense for Apple to offer bigger memory configurations. The cost of memory keeps dropping all the time. So the marginal cost for Apple to put that really huge memory allocation in the phone would be minimal, and it would make a lot of sense,” explains Wood.
Samsung's new Galaxy S7 starts at 32GB, and features a microSD slot too
There’s also a growing consensus that the next iPhone will follow the iPad Pro’s lead and come in a 256GB version, which could help shunt the low-end iPhone storage capacities upwards.
“We believe 256GB storage being adopted in the next generation of iPhone is really likely to happen," Avril Wu, smartphone analyst at TrendForce, told us. “However, even if 256GB is the case, it will only be used in 5.5-inch model’s ‘premium’ version."
Similarly, James Moar, Senior Analyst at Juniper Research, speaking to TrustedReviews, said: “If a 256GB iPhone is to be released, it will be as part of a wider...offering (potentially an iPhone 7 Plus), that can be used in the workplace in the same way as the iPad Pro is intended to be."
Nevertheless, analysts seem to agree that if a 256GB iPhone arrives, there’s a good chance Apple will lift its baseline storage in suit. Huzzah!
The average person spends 23 days a year on their smartphone, according to a recent study. We use these devices every single day. And because of that, we're beholden to the phone makers. They decide how we operate through the design choices they make, storage capacity included.
Unfortunately, despite what we’d like to think, consumer happiness isn’t the be all and end all for Apple. Steve Jobs knew it, and Tim Cook knows it too. By keeping a 16GB base storage, it’s far easier for Apple to up-sell us onto pricier devices.
The moral of the story is this: even though the cheapest iPhone 7 will probably come with 32GB of storage, it isn’t because you want it. You’ve always wanted it, after all.
It’s really because Apple can make more money from you, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Apple is sure to stretch 16GB for as long as you will bear the burden, and then do the same with 32GB, and so on, so forth, forever.
But hey, there’s always iCloud.
Watch our iPhone SE video below:
Do you think Apple should make 32GB the new baseline storage for the iPhone 7? Let us know in the comments.