I upgraded from a 64GB iPhone X to a 256GB iPhone 14 Pro last year, skipping the 128GB model out of fear it wouldn’t meet my growing storage needs. This wasn’t the first time I spent more on extra iPhone storage. It turns out that, more than a year later, 128GB would have sufficed.
Storage is my second-biggest concern when buying a new iPhone, with battery life taking the top spot. But the dawn of AI might fix my storage problem, especially the kind of AI I’m dying to get on the iPhone. Personal, on-device AI features will not just require more RAM — they will also require more storage space.
Analysts expect smartphone vendors to increase the storage on upcoming Android phones, with Samsung reportedly developing a new version of UFS 4.0 optimized for AI. If the storage requirements for AI are as considerable as the experts believe, Apple might have no choice but to bump up the storage on iPhone 16 models next year.
The Galaxy S24 is widely expected to be Samsung’s first AI Phone. Samsung has already unveiled its ChatGPT rival, Gauss. And it demoed an AI call translation feature that will likely be available to Galaxy S24 buyers next year.
The AI Live Translate Call feature will happen on-device, meaning data won’t leave the device. That’s a key aspect of delivering personal AI experiences. They have to be private, and that means processing data locally.
A few days ago, a report said smartphones will need at least 12GB of RAM to process on-device AI features. Analysts think AI assistant features will require 20GB of RAM. That made me wonder whether Apple will boost the RAM on iPhone 16 models next year. Weeks before that, I highlighted a new trend among Android vendors for 2024: phones rocking 24GB of RAM.
Fast-forward to late November, and Omdia’s Senior Researcher Yeon Seung-hoon (via Revegnus) believes that AI smartphones will need more storage:
Next year, with the integration of AI features in smartphones, there will be growth opportunities for storage. To drive AI operations, including learning and inference, more than 15% of the total smartphone storage must be utilized.
To get back to my 256GB iPhone 14 Pro, 15% of memory would amount to roughly 40GB. It’s not a lot, but it’s not a little ether. It’d be about 20GB on an iPhone with 128GB of storage.
All iPhone 15 models start at 128GB of storage, except for the iPhone 15 Pro Max. The most expensive new iPhone gets 256GB as a minimum. Interestingly, reports analyzing the bill of materials for the iPhone 15 Pro Max indicated the 256GB storage bump wasn’t that expensive for Apple this year.
Many Android vendors have moved to 256GB of storage on their cheapest models. Mid-range Android handsets start at 128GB.
Also, Android vendors have been the first to bump the storage on their devices, with Apple needing years to ditch the previous 64GB default. It’s too early to tell whether Apple will make 256GB the new storage minimum for iPhone 16 models and later.
But, unlike many Android vendors, Apple sells iPhones that go up to 1TB in storage. There were reports of Apple moving to 2TB for the iPhone 15 series, but that hasn’t happened.
I’ll also point out the most obvious thing here. On-device personal AI might be the kind of smartphone experience that vendors will want to monetize.
I can see a future where you’d get to choose between cloud-only AI and personal AI that works on your device for most things. The latter could require more RAM and storage, and companies like Samsung and Apple might increase the prices of those AI phones that support on-device AI.
I already said I’m ready to buy the most expensive iPhone 16 Pro Max model if that’s what gets me Apple GPT, so I’m ready for that. But I’m only speculating here.
It’s too early to say what will happen next, but the Galaxy S24 will soon show us what sort of hardware Samsung needs for on-device AI. We’ll see how much RAM the Galaxy S24 phones rock and whether they’ll get bumps in storage. The Galaxy S23 Plus and Ultra already start at 256GB. It would be wild to see them start at the next possible option, which is 512GB of flash memory.
Also, this rumored UFS 4.0 storage will inform us about the kind of storage speed that on-device AI will require. Whether Apple bumps the storage on iPhone 16 phones or not, I’m not worried about the speed of the flash memory. That’s never been a problem for the iPhone.
Speaking about monetizing AI features, Samsung might have another interest in optimizing UFS storage for AI, and that’s to boost sales for its semiconductor division. Other vendors will want UFS 4.0 chips if they plan on adding AI features to their 2024 flagships. Most of them probably want to get on the AI hype train.