Apple's iPhone sets the standard among smartphones in many ways. Not only does Apple make the best camera phone you can currently buy, the list of best phones overall is peppered with different iPhone models. When it comes to design, software, and just the overall smartphone experience, the iPhone puts many would-be rivals to its smartphone crown to shame.
Unless you look at the storage Apple includes in its entry-level iPhone models. In that case, the competition has got the iPhone's number.
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I'm not talking about the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max, which deliver a healthy 128GB of onboard storage in their base configurations. Of course, that's a big change from the iPhone 11 Pro, which started out with 64GB in storage. What, is the "Pro" short for, "prohibitively cramped"?
The iPhone 12 Pro models may have increased their base storage from previous versions of Apple's phone, but that edict didn't reach the iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 mini. Those phones still start out with a pedestrian 64GB of on-board storage. And given Apple's "no microSD slot, ever" policy, iPhone shoppers fave a dilemma when buying the cheaper versions of Apple's flagship — make do with the 64GB of storage in the base model or pay an extra $50 to bump the storage to an acceptable 128GB.
A new iPhone brings the opportunity to correct old mistakes, and Apple's expected to introduce new iPhone 13 models this fall in the same four variations as the iPhone 12 lineup. While big changes are doubtlessly in the works, touching everything from display refresh speed to camera features, I hope Apple remembers to boost the amount of storage it includes on the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini.
How iPhone storage compares to similar smartphones
Eyeball the storage of other phones that cost about the same as the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini, and it doesn't take a lot of analysis to see where Apple's coming up short.
|Phone||Base model storage||microSD?||Price|
|Apple iPhone 12 mini||64GB||No||$699|
|Apple iPhone 12||64GB||No||$799|
|Samsung Galaxy S21||128GB||No||$799|
|Samsung Galaxy S20 FE||128GB||Yes||$699|
|Samsung Galaxy A52 5G||128GB||Yes||$499|
|Google Pixel 6||128GB||No||$699|
|Nokia 8.3 5G||128GB||Yes||$699|
These days, 128GB of storage is the table stakes for a flagship phone, something Apple seems to recognize with its Pro models at least. Some of the phones on this list have expandable storage, some don't, but all of them save for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini, start with at least 128GB; the Motorola Edge even doubles things up to 256GB.
To find 64GB as the starting point for a phone, you usually have to scour through midrange and even budget models. Here, too, the Galaxy A52 5G tops the latest iPhones, with double the storage in the base model for $200 less than the iPhone 12 mini.
Why doesn't Apple offer more iPhone storage?
So what's stopping Apple from following the lead of other phone makers and giving its two least expensive flagships a decent amount of storage? One possible explanation is the cost of adding more capacity, but Avi Greengart, lead analyst fro Techsponential, told me that's probably not the case.
"Storage is not the most expensive component of a phone, but it isn’t inexpensive, and Apple uses storage as a way to create pricing tiers and keep margins high," Greengart said. "There are definitely supply constraints on memory right now, and prices have gone up, though you can say that about nearly any component these days."
If storage is one of the ways Apple is differentiating between its standard phones and its Pro models, the iPhone 13 would seem to render that distinction moot, based on the other rumored changes apparently headed to those handsets. It's the iPhone 13 Pro models that are expected to get the dynamically refreshing 120Hz displays, not the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini. Likewise, the most interesting iPhone 13 camera additions are slated for the Pro models. Why not give the iPhone 13 and 13 mini a little extra storage love?
It may seem like a minor point, but storage is an increasingly value commodity on phones in an age where device makers are encouraging us to snap a lot of photos. And given Apple's emphasis on photo features, you'd think the company would want to make sure there's enough room on its iPhone to store all those images.
"Consumers who shoot a lot of pictures or store lots of video definitely try to buy phones with higher baseline storage capacity," Greengart said. "The alternative is to move content more quickly to the cloud — but that costs money, too, just every month instead of when you buy the phone."
Apple has little immediate motivation for bumping up the storage on the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini. After all, nobody's really making buying decision based on the amount of storage a phone has. If anything, customers are simply shrugging and paying the extra cost to get more storage or purchasing an iCloud subscription— a situation I'm sure Apple isn't entirely unhappy about.
But skimpy storage is still a flaw, and an easily correctable one at that. It's something Apple should address with the iPhone 13.