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iPhone 16 probably won’t upgrade RAM due to Apple’s AI breakthrough

Published Dec 21st, 2023 7:54PM EST
iPhone 15 Screen and USB-C port.
Image: Christian de Looper for BGR

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Apple refuses to share any details about the iPhone’s RAM at press events or in press releases and marketing materials. That’s an important spec in a computing device, particularly one this powerful. I suspect Apple is still afraid to reveal the amount of RAM on its iPhones because revealing it might put the iPhone in a bad light compared to rivals.

Given Apple’s most recent AI breakthrough, I now think the iPhone 16 will not deliver major RAM or storage upgrades. At best, we might get more storage for the iPhone 16 models, in line with what Apple did with the iPhone 15 Pro Max this year.

AI hardware requirements on phones

The iPhone 15 Pro rocks 8GB of RAM, which pales in comparison to Android devices that feature 12GB, 16GB, or even 24GB of memory. Apple’s message has been that RAM doesn’t matter and that the iPhone can beat those rivals when it comes to performance. And that’s actually true. I don’t need more RAM from my iPhone 14 Pro because I never felt like I didn’t have enough.

Maybe that’s why we don’t care about RAM specifics on iPhones. Apple trained us that way.

But a few weeks ago, I wondered whether the iPhone 16 series would pack more RAM. Estimates said that private, on-device, generative AI assistants will requir anywhere between 12GB and 20GB of RAM. Apple GPT is expected to deliver on-device features.

iPhone 15 Plus Dynamic Island.
iPhone 15 Plus Dynamic Island. Image source: Christian de Looper for BGR

Specifically, the report said that on-device image creation will require 12GB of RAM. Digital AI assistants will need access to 20GB of memory.

Then, a report said that on-device AI will require the use of a significant portion of the smartphone’s storage. Some 15% of the flash memory might be dedicated to the AI.

This prompted me to speculate that the iPhone 16 might deliver an important upgrade to storage to make that sort of personal AI experience happen. Maybe a bump to 256GB of storage across the line would be in order.

Apple’s big AI discovery

Fast-forward to mid-December, Apple researchers detailed a breakthrough AI discovery in a research paper. They’ve figured out technologies to make LLMs, or large language models, run on mobile devices with limited resources. That’s an exciting detail for all iPhone models, not just the iPhone 16.

The researchers found ways to make use of the phone’s flash memory (the storage) to run services like ChatGPT instead of the RAM. That means Apple GPT, once it launches via iOS 18, will not necessarily be an exclusive iPhone 16 feature.

iPhone 15 Pro on a shelf.
iPhone 15 Pro on a shelf. Image source: Jonathan Geller, BGR

Instead, Apple might make it work on older devices, including the iPhone 15 and iPhone 14 series. The latest iPhone 15 models pack 6GB of RAM. The Pros have 8GB of memory. Comparatively, the Galaxy S24 should feature 8GB or 12GB of RAM, depending on the model. The Galaxy S24 will be Samsung’s first phone with on-device AI features.

Apple’s breakthrough is exciting and could very well be applied in other places, including iPads and Macs that already pack more RAM than the iPhone.

What to expect from the iPhone 16

But there’s also a downside to all of this. On-devive AI will not press Apple to deliver big RAM upgrades anytime soon. I can see the iPhone 16 Pro models stay at 8GB, but not 12GB or 16GB. Again, I’ve never felt like I didn’t have enough RAM on my iPhones. However, I wonder how an iPhone 16 will handle the AI of 2026 or 2028. People tend to keep using their iPhones for longer periods.

As for storage, Apple wants to use the phone’s fast flash memory to compensate for the RAM. Apple’s tech will let the iPhone run AI models that need up to twice the iPhone’s physical memory. Performance could increase by four or five times (CPU) and between 20 and 25 times for GPUs.

iPhone 15 Pro Max Screen
iPhone 15 Pro Max’s screen. Image source: Christian de Looper for BGR

If I don’t see a big RAM upgrade coming to the iPhone 16 next year, I do think we might be in for a storage upgrade. Apple abandoning the 128GB storage tier would make sense, especially on the iPhone 16 Pro. It would be amazing if the base iPhone 16 models would start at 256GB of storage as well.

I’ll point out that two out of Samsung’s three Galaxy S24 models will feature at least 256GB of storage. The only exception is the base model, which will still feature 128GB of flash memory.

That said, I’m just speculating. I’m certain the adoption of on-device AI will impact the iPhone’s hardware in the coming years. But we’ll have to wait until we hear from Apple on the matter. If Apple GPT is part of the iOS 18 release, Apple should address how its LLM works on iPhone as soon as June, during next year’s WWDC opening keynote.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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