The Expandable Storage Scandal – And Why We Shouldn’t Care

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As technology shrunk its availability to mobile phones exploded; the last ten years has seen us go from grainy low-res screens and monophonic ringtones to constant web connectivity and enough power to render high-demand 3D games while playing high-bitrate music.

To make full use of this, we all needed to blow our phone’s storage wide open with additional memory cards; there was no way we could pack gigabytes of data onto the paltry flash memory chips that were affordable enough for mobile phones at the time. So why are virtually all modern smartphones ditching the Micro SD card? Samsung’s Galaxy handsets are one of a tiny number the remain with companies like Apple, HTC, Nokia and Motorola all lacking this feature – and it’s all down to the cloud.

This latest guest post, provided by cloud hosting provider Cloudklix, runs through cloud computing’s impact on our everyday lives and the diminishing need for local physical storage.

Why We Needed Micro SD In The First Place

The level of progression in phone technology has been simply astonishing, and as more handsets feature smooth music playback and cameras measured in actual megapixels (my first camera phone boasted ONE WHOLE MEGAPIXEL!) the more we needed more storage space. With internal flash memory of early multi-use phones of yore measured in double-digit megabytes, there was nowhere near enough room to house more than a handful of MP3s and half a dozen photos.

SD and Micro SD cards have historically offered the cheapest and least cumbersome form of portable flash memory, so what better way to give people unrestricted use of the great new features with the only limitations being the size of available memory cards. The SDHC (high capacity) format blew this wide open, giving users up to 64gb of storage if their device supported it. It was great to hold virtually all our music, photos and videos – it suited our needs, at the time at least.

Why Did It Disappear From Smartphones & Tablets?

Simply put, the cost of internal flash memory plummeted – now, 8GB is considered paltry and anything less is almost inconceivable. The cynics will argue it’s so that manufacturers can increase their profit margins and force the purchase of more expensive high-capacity handsets, whereas the slightly less suspicious will say we simply don’t need them.

I’d argue it’s a mix of both – manufacturers see it as an unnecessary expense in the production process because it’s unnecessary. Why offer customers the ability to stick a 32gb Micro SD card in when the handset has this level of storage already? Ok, so from a consumer point of view it would be nice to double your storage space, but for something that harks back to those 32mb internal memory days of the early 2000s, is it needed? This brings me on to the next point…

How The Cloud Means It Really Doesn’t Matter

The cloud is exactly why we don’t need it anymore – systems like Google Docs and Dropbox make expandable storage of hundreds of old holiday photos and countless work documents completely obsolete. Want to view a particular photo edit a certain document? Load it up via your chosen cloud platform.

Want to listen to your music collection? Load up Google Music, Amazon’s Cloud Player, Spotify or any number of other similar applications. Dying to watch a video on a car trip? Netflix, YouTube and countless other streaming apps are available. The sudden explosion in the cloud has overlapped nicely with the dropping of memory card slots on smartphones and the growing adoption of 4G/LTE data plans, as well as their falling cost.

Cloud packages offer gigabytes upon gigabytes of storage space, while some free on-demand services don’t limit you at all (e.g. Amazon’s Music Player will give you streaming access to any music you’ve ever bought from them with no numerical/file size limit).

A Fond Farewell To Physical Storage

Physical storage is always great, and having as much as you possibly can is always preferable; we’ll no doubt be at the stage in the next ten years where in-built storage is in the hundreds of gigabytes. It’s great, but it’s not a necessity – cloud computing gives us more seamless access as well, meaning any photos we upload will be there on our desktop and any documents you edit will be the same whatever device you access them from.

Given how easy to use, free/cheap and widely available cloud storage and streaming media services are now, the need to hoard as many gigabytes as possible on one device has all but disappeared. While some manufacturers still include this expandable slot, it’s out of pleasing the consumer’s perception of a need, rather than an actual need – soon we’ll be accessing so much via the cloud we’ll be wondering how we managed without.

This guest post was written by Tom McShane – blogger, tech lover, cloud believer and writer for Cloudklix, a cloud server hosting supplier offering public and private clouds to everything from start-up enterprises to large corporations.

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