Note to Self: It’s the Storage Space, Stupid

Last night I speculated that the slow uptake of iOS 8 was about people not trusting Apple with iOS software updates — too many bugs, and too many friends and family members talking about those bugs. I still think there’s something to that angle.

But it’s very clear that I was wrong about what the primary factor is. The simple answer was staring me right in the face. It’s all about the over-the-air update requiring 5 GB of free storage space, and many people not having that much free space, and not knowing how or simply not wanting to deal with it.

I don’t think I have ever received so much reader feedback on a post in the history of Daring Fireball. Hundreds of emails. Dozens and dozens of replies on Twitter. All of them saying the exact same thing: that either they themselves or people they know want to upgrade to iOS 8 but haven’t yet or can’t because the OTA software update won’t fit on their devices.

Jonathan Hoover puts it well:

iOS 8 OTA update requires about 5GB of free space on the device. Most people, especially those who wouldn’t update until they get the badge on the settings app, don’t have 5GB free on their iPhone. They have no idea they can plug their iPhone into their computer and iTunes will update it. They don’t know they can free up space by downloading their pictures and videos to their computer. 

iPhone makes it so easy for casual users to take gigabytes of photos and videos but nearly impossible for those users to know what to do with them.

This is a serious problem for Apple, because all those 16 GB devices (let alone the 8 GB ones) aren’t going to suddenly gain more free storage space on their own. A lot of these devices might never get updated to iOS 8, but would if the OTA software worked. Unless they can rejigger the OTA software update to require less free space, iOS 8’s adoption rate might lag permanently.1

Which in turn brings to mind one of the closing paragraphs of my review of the new iPhones 6:

But I don’t understand why the entry level storage tier remained at a meager 16 GB. That seems downright punitive given how big panoramic photos and slo-mo HD videos are, and it sticks out like a sore thumb when you look at the three storage tiers together: 32/64/128 looks natural; 16/64/128 looks like a mistake. The original iPhone, seven years and eight product generations ago, had an 8 GB storage tier. The entry-level iPhones 6 are 50 times faster than that original iPhone, but have only twice the storage capacity. That’s just wrong. This is the single-most disappointing aspect of the new phones.

iOS itself takes up about 4 GB, so these 16 GB devices only have about 12 GB free right out of the box. If there is any way that Apple could have brought the base model storage up to 32 GB with the new iPhones, they should have. And it’s inexcusable that they’re still selling new devices with only 8 GB of storage.

If this decision was made simply in the interest of profit margins, and/or to nudge would-be entry-level-model buyers to the more expensive 64 GB mid-range models, whatever money Apple is making from this is not worth it, in the long run, compared to the collective goodwill they’re losing and the frustration they’re creating.

  1. One small thing Apple could do: when alerting the user that there isn’t enough space to install the update, they could provide a link to this support article — “Resolve issues with an over-the-air iOS update” — which is actually quite helpful. ↩︎

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