Why Has Flash Storage In Mobile Devices Plateaued?

I still remember when the first iPhone came out. The base model came with a paltry 4GB of flash storage, which wasn’t enough for two movies off of 4GB DVDs. Of course, flash storage was more expensive back then. Even iPods were short on flash storage. But a year later, the iPhone 3G came out and heroically doubled the flash storage available to 8GB in the base model. And another year later, the 3GS upped it to 16GB. I was in awe of this trend of doubling the memory of devices, as I couldn’t fit all my music on my 8GB iPhone 3G. Then the iPhone 4 came out, along with its Android counterparts (like the Galaxy S). All of them had 16GB of memory or less. I thought it was strange that the amount of memory in phones hadn’t raised again, but understood that 32GB was a lot to ask for. Maybe next year.

And next year came, with a 16GB iPhone 4S, a 16GB Galaxy S II, and many other phones (some even coming with less than 16GB). The first phones the US is seeing with a base of 32GB of storage are the Samsung Galaxy Nexus (from carriers, anyway. The unlocked version has 16GB) and the HTC One X, and that may very well be due to the fact that neither have microSD card slots. Even the unreleased Galaxy SIII will start at 16GB.

And this trend continues with other devices too. All flash-based iPods have very little memory, unless you pay BIG money for a 64GB iPod Touch.

There have been no major breakthroughs for flash memory lately. It hasn’t gotten cheaper, more spacious, or smaller in physical size. Considering cameras are shooting in 1080p, screens are being made 720p for viewing HD content, and more of people’s lives are becoming digital, it should be very important for flash memory to grow with the rest of the technology in phones. Just like battery technology, flash memory technology is letting people down. The best Galaxy SIII on launch day will be only 32GB, and that means I’ll be able to fit maybe 4 movies onto it, if I’m lucky. That’s if I forego photos and music completely.

There is the alternative of streaming, but it’s nowhere near perfect. Even over a good wifi connection, streaming movies isn’t nearly as good quality as a local copy. And when you’re out on a mobile network, even LTE isn’t consistent enough to properly stream media all the time. While mobile carriers throttle us and take ages to built better networks, we need more memory in our devices.

This goes double for tablets. You buy an entertainment device with a massive battery good for watching at least 5 movies straight, yet you can’t even fit 5 movies onto it. You take a tablet on vacation, but it can’t replace your computer because on your 14 hour flight to Germany, your tablet ran out of content halfway there.

The strange thing is, a 32GB MicroSD is only $20 on Amazon. In a $749 phone, they couldn’t throw in a 32GB internal chip? It should be even cheaper for a manufacturer, considering they’re buying in bulk and they’re buying just the raw memory chip instead of the entire card. You could even get a 64GB MicroSD for about $80, yet the price premium of most devices going from 16GB to 64GB is $200.

I don’t see this ending anytime soon. Eventually, manufacturers will move onto 32GB as the standard. And hitting 64GB will possibly take another few years. And I see absolutely no logical reason for this. What do you guys think? Do you remember the good old days where flash storage doubled every year? Are you upset that it has peaked? Or do you have a reason for this? Tell us in the comments!

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