There used to be a time where buying any non-Apple smartphone guaranteed the ability to expand your storage beyond what came with the phone. Usually this took place in the form of SD or micro SD cards. If the phone was released with a couple gigabytes of space, no problem! Simply add your own. The idea of a smartphone having non-expandable memory and a completely sealed body was popularized by the iPhone. Much hand-wringing and derision followed from users who declared that Apple was taking away freedom of choice. Now it seems the industry as a whole is following that pattern, to mixed results.
Take Verizon’s newest flagship phone, HTC’s Droid DNA. Awesome screen. LTE for lightning fast networking. No SD Card slot, and only 16GB of storage. Several GB of that is taken up by system applications, leaving the user with even less. Even more egregious on a device with such high technical specs is the lack of a removable battery. With all the power packed into the device, it’s obvious, even on paper, that the phone would be power hungry. Reports are that they sacrificed the removable battery to insert wireless charging, but they don’t include the wireless charging mat, leading to additional expense for the consumer.
How about Google’s new device, the LG Nexus 4? No micro SD card slot and no removable battery. For Google and LG there is a built in excuse here. The Nexus phone line has never had SD card storage. Android engineer Dan Morrill had this to say on the subject:
“We got tired of seeing OEMs include many GB of internal storage for music, while users were still running out of space for apps and data. This approach lets us merge everything on one volume, which is way better.”
This would be fine, except the previous generation Galaxy Nexus had a 32GB option. The Nexus 4 only comes with 8 and 16GB configurations. Maybe there will be a larger version down the line, but that does nothing for early adopters.
More devices are beginning to strip out user access entirely. While there are still high end devices that do offer these options (Samsung’s Galaxy S III comes to mind) the industry seems to be trending in a certain direction.
Engineering has something to do with it. By eliminating battery doors and micro SD slots, manufacturers can make phones thinner, which helps compensate for the increasing size of mobile phone displays. There is also a hidden equation hovering above the surface. The addition of HD mobile displays and cloud storage, and the subtraction of increased storage options and unlimited data plans equals a profitable proposition for mobile carriers. One has to wonder just how much influence the carriers have in these design decisions.
Whatever the reasons, it is troubling to see design decisions put ahead of functionality. It sounds great to have a device with a huge screen, LTE and quad core processors, but those benefits go away when you can only use a phone within a certain set of parameters. As it stands, manufacturers are providing as many reasons to stick with old devices, as they are reasons to upgrade to new ones.