With the need for bigger data, will we ever have enough storage?

More users may soon be paying for digital storage to free up space on their devices, says the writer. File picture: Oupa Mokoena African News Agency (ANA)

More users may soon be paying for digital storage to free up space on their devices, says the writer. File picture: Oupa Mokoena African News Agency (ANA)

Published Apr 25, 2023


Every day we capture more pictures, more videos, and more “content”, as social media influencers like to call it.

Over the years, smartphone storage has had to increase in capacity to cater for more information captured by a device, more data being transferred, and more temporary memory to cater for high-resource-consuming software which runs on ever-evolving smartphones.

The trend in the increase of smartphone storage is also likely attributed to the increased file size of pictures and videos captured on the device thanks to larger megapixel cameras capable of producing files, gigabytes in size, in a few minutes capturing 4K videos.

Another demand is through apps that save files for off-line use, like films and movies downloaded on Netflix and music streaming apps.

In a South African context, while mobile phones have been around for years, one of the devices which popularised the term “smartphone” could arguably be the BlackBerry Curve 9220, launched in 2012.

Using this smartphone as an example, given that it ushered in wider use of the web through its compressed internet service, BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS), minute 2MP camera, twinned with larger storage than most smartphones at the time, clocking in at 512MB – a tenth of the storage capacity found in smartphones currently retailing.

Given the quality of smartphone photos at the time, storage demand was lower than today, with the smartphone fully capable of storing all the images captured on the device without needing to free up space too often on it.

Cloud Storage

For South Africans, the period marked an era of storage on hard drives and servers, despite the first cloud services emerging with Amazon’s launch of Amazon Web Services through the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service in 2007, eventually bringing cloud storage to the country, at the time of the launch of smartphones in the “BlackBerry Curve 9220 era”.

It was also at the time that Apple’s popular first-ever iPhones began arriving in the country. The iCloud service launched in 2011, allowing users to automatically upload photos to iCloud, making them accessible across devices while freeing up space on the device.

With a 2MP camera and 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB flash memory, the first iPhones may not have needed cloud storage.

Still, it marks another example of storage demand increase, with today’s iPhone 14 available in 128GB, 256GB and 512GB variants 16 years later.

More cloud services launched throughout the years of the iPhone legacy, and outside the iCloud, saw the migration to storing years of memories captured on smartphones to the cloud through popular services like Microsoft’s OneDrive and Google’s Drive.

Through trends of migration to cloud services, already being adopted by businesses moving their servers online, individuals paying a monthly subscription for comprehensive cloud services of various online storage capacities is not out of the norm in today’s rich-data era.

But will it be enough? And will smartphones ever reach a threshold in capacity?

A safe assumption given the decade-long trends the world has witnessed in storage capacity – is no.

The progression and evolution of smartphones each year show better cameras, better screen quality and a slower increase in internal storage capacity, thanks to the load taken off by cloud services.

Despite this, improvements made to smartphone cameras alone are a pre-shadow of what can be expected until the technology reaches surreal capabilities.

As smartphone cameras alone increase in size and capacity, storage demands will eventually increase, with some today already featuring a terabyte of internal storage – almost 20 times the size of the BlackBerry Curve, launched 11 years ago.

Even with cloud services available, more users may soon be paying for digital storage to free up space on their devices. With improvements to smartphones being made, we can expect storage capacity for smartphones made alongside this.

* Kyle Venktess is a freelance content producer for IOL Tech.