Why Apple Isn’t Getting Rid of 16GB iPhones

Apple's new iPhone SE starts at just 16GB of storage

iPhone SE | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

When Apple introduced the iPhone SE, plenty of iPhone fans and tech bloggers were disappointed by Apple’s decision to equip the entry-level model with just 16GB of storage. That’s the same amount of storage that Apple has offered in the least-expensive model of each new iPhone since the introduction of the iPhone 3GS in 2009. Even though apps have gotten bigger and more numerous, and iPhone cameras have gained the capability to capture bigger and better cameras and videos, Apple is continuing in offering a storage tier that has long frustrated users, and will likely continue to do so.

As we reported last year, when the Internet was incensed that the newest iPhone would once again start at just 16GB of storage, the reasons behind Apple’s decision to keep making new 16GB iPhones are mostly financial. The current iPhone lineup — with a 16GB model, a 64GB model, and for the iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus, a new 128GB option — is a pretty lucrative one for Apple. A 64GB iPhone costs $100 more than a 16GB iPhone. Which is one reason why many Apple fans go for the cheapest option, and get stuck with 16GB of storage, which usually isn’t enough for users who download lots of apps or take numerous photos.

T.C. Sottek reports for The Verge that at this point, “it’s an embarrassment to offer a device that’s crippled by paltry storage space, especially when most people are likely to buy the cheapest model.” Apple has so far shrugged off criticism of its 16GB iPhones, and Phil Schiller said last summer that iCloud was a suitable supplement to an iPhone’s local storage. “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,” Schiller explained.

But even if iCloud is a reasonable replacement for local storage — and in many ways, relying on iCloud is less convenient than just using sufficient local storage on the iPhone — it creates other problems for users who are opting for a 16GB iPhone to save money on their monthly wireless bill in the first place. If they turn to iCloud instead of paying extra for an iPhone with more local storage, iPhone users would often find themselves relying on cellular data just to retrieve their media. Sottek notes that this model of storage “is probably especially troublesome for ‘price-conscious customers’ who may not be able to afford speedy mobile data plans.”

Apple charges $100 more for the upgrade from 16GB of storage to 64GB of storage, a $100 charge for an increase in flash storage that really costs just a fraction of that price increase. That pads Apple’s profit margin on higher-capacity iPhones, and while the 16GB capacity of the entry-level models does make the pricier models more attractive, Apple’s decision to keep making 16GB iPhones has no positive effects for its customers. We can just hope that in the future, perhaps on the iPhone 7 release date, Apple will increase the amount of storage that’s included in the entry-level iPhone model. So far, it seems unlikely that Apple will give up the opportunity to get users to pay that extra $100 to upgrade from 16GB to 64GB, but it doesn’t hurt to be optimistic that Apple may upgrade the first storage tier to 32GB instead.

For users who need or want to opt for a 16GB iPhone, there are plenty of ways to live with the less-than-ideal amount of storage. You can delete extraneous apps and data, turn off or avoid using space-hungry features, and clear out your photos by storing them in the cloud instead. You can also opt to stream music and videos instead of storing them locally, and take advantage of Apple’s newly expanded and less-expensive iCloud storage plans.

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