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How Apple could make 16GB devices feel a lot roomier

Michael Simon | March 24, 2016
iOS could use the limited space a little more intelligently.

Every time Apple releases a new iPhone, a few things are guaranteed: It will be the best version of it they ever made. Its processing and graphics power will make the model it replaces look like garbage. And the base model will come with way too little storage.

Much to the chagrin of would-be buyers, Apple refuses to let go of the lowly storage option it introduced with the iPhone 4. Even the iPhone 6s Plus, which costs $100 more than the smaller iPhone 6s, still offers a paltry 16GB of storage, all but forcing anyone choosing the productivity-minded phablet to spend yet another $100 on the much more palatable 64GB model.

With such a wide gap between the bottom and middle tiers of iPhone, Apple clearly has an up-sell strategy, but the fact of the matter is, as long as a 16GB iPhone is available, people are going to buy it. Whether its due to preference, naïveté or plain old penny-pinching, there are a lot of 16GB iPhones out there, and with a brand-new iPhone SE set to hit shelves next week, there’s no reason to doubt that the iPhone 7, 7s, and 8 will continue the trend.

But if Apple plans on continuing to offer a 16GB iPhone, it doesn’t have to be the runt of the litter. With a few tweaks and additions to iOS, Apple could keep churning out low-end models at attractive prices without inflicting a crippled handset on its trusting buyers. And quite frankly, some storage smarts wouldn’t hurt the upper models either.

Thinnovation

When the new Apple TV landed last year, it brought back the hard drive that had been missing from previous generations. Just two sizes are offered, and the upper model tops out at just 64GB, a paltry amount compared to the 500GB Xbox and PlayStation consoles.

But that isn’t Apple being stingy. Thanks to a technology called app thinning and slicing, even the most intense tvOS games are limited to how much space they can use on your Apple TV’s hard drive. To get around the initial download cap, apps and games can access resources stored in the cloud, which are only downloaded when needed and purged after use. The effect on gameplay and performance is negligible, and it ensures you won’t be stuck staring at a spinning wheel while the movie you want to watch struggles to find usable cache space.

Apple’s app thinning tech actually began as an iOS 9 feature, but the implementation hasn’t been as strict on mobile devices. Five apps on my iPhone clock in at more than 1GB apiece; together they’d eat up nearly half of the available space on a 16GB phone. By implementing a hard limit on download size and utilizing on-demand resources in the same way Apple TV does, Apple could open up the low-capacity iPhone to a far greater array of apps and instantly cut down on the “storage almost full” messages, although those apps would become hard to use off the grid.

 

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