Is Apple’s latest mobile operating system cheating consumers out of their fair share of storage space? As many technically savvy consumers are probably aware, the advertised storage capacity of most electronic devices rarely matches up to the actual available storage space, due to the space used up by the operating system and other preinstalled applications. For example, a desktop computer that is advertised with one terabyte (1000 gigabytes) of storage may only have 970 gigabytes of actual storage available due to the space already occupied by essential programs. The amount of storage capacity that is lost to software varies with each device and usually depends on what type of operating system is used and how many applications (or “bloatware”) the manufacturer chooses to preload on the device.
Whether or not this is an appropriate way to describe a device’s storage capacity is debatable. Either way, as previously noted, most consumers are aware of this discrepancy between advertised and actual storage space. However, a recent lawsuit filed against Apple alleges that the iPhone maker overstepped the acceptable levels of storage capacity loss with its latest iOS 8 mobile operating system. A class action lawsuit filed against Apple in a California federal court alleges that the company is harming consumers by failing to disclose the “unexpectedly large percentage of the storage capacity on 8 GB and 16 GB iPhones, iPads and iPods” that is lost to Apple’s iOS 8 operating system.
Although the lawsuit was filed by two individuals, the plaintiffs are seeking class action status due to the large number of potential plaintiffs. The lawsuit accuses Apple of violating California’s Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law, and Consumer Legal Remedies Act. The plaintiffs are seeking a court order that will force Apple to stop its “unlawful and unfair business acts and practices” and “engage in a corrective notice campaign.” The plaintiffs are also seeking attorneys’ fees, as well as the usual “equitable relief.”
Besides shortchanging consumers for an amount of storage space that is equivalent to “approximately 400-500 high resolution photographs,” the lawsuit also accuses Apple of using “sharp business tactics” by offering to sell consumers additional storage space through its iCloud service. As noted in the papers filed with the court, fees for Apple’s iCloud storage service range from $0.99 to $29.99 per month.
“Defendant gives less storage capacity than advertised, only to offer to sell that capacity in a desperate moment, e.g., when a consumer is trying to record or take photos at a child or grandchild’s recital, basketball game or wedding,” wrote the plaintiffs’ lawyers. The lawsuit noted that pop-up advertisements for iCloud appear on devices that are nearly out of storage space.
According to the data provided in the papers filed with the court, up to 23.1% of a device’s storage capacity is sacrificed to iOS 8. The 16GB iPod is the worst offender, while the iPhone 5S is missing the least amount of storage capacity at just 18.1%. The latest iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus models fall in between those two extremes with 18.8% and 20.6% amount of storage capacity sacrificed to iOS 8 in each model, respectively.
While there’s no question that the storage capacity labels used for Apple’s devices do not accurately reflect the true amount of storage space available to consumers, it should be noted that Apple has historically been one of the least egregious offenders when it comes to actual versus advertised storage capacities. Last year, U.K.-based consumer advocate charity Which? examined eight of the most popular 16GB smartphones and found that Apple’s 16GB iPhone 5C offered the largest amount of usable memory at 12.6GB, or 79% of the total memory capacity. In comparison, Samsung’s 16GB Galaxy S4 only gave consumers 8.56GB of usable storage, or 54% of the advertised capacity.
On the other hand, the inability to boost the storage capacity of iOS-based devices may have exacerbated consumers’ frustration with Apple over this issue. Unlike most other mobile device makers, Apple does not allow its users to expand their iOS-based mobile devices with memory cards. This leaves customers with no other recourse for acquiring more storage capacity except to upgrade to a higher capacity model, or to subscribe to the iCloud storage service. Lower capacity devices like the 16GB iPhone and 16GB iPad seem especially inadequate given the growing size of iOS and other mobile software applications.
If this lawsuit is successful, it may prompt other device makers to change how they advertise the memory capacities of their devices. However, a similar lawsuit filed against Apple in 2007 over the advertised storage for iPods was eventually dismissed, reports The Verge. Regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit, Apple is unlikely to change its policy on expandable memory, since the lack of storage space likely encourages users to upgrade to more expensive models and benefits Apple’s bottom line. As recently noted by analyst Neil Cybart at Above Avalon, Apple’s retention of the 16GB iPhone model is a clever marketing strategy that will likely save the company $3 billion in profit in 2015.