Apple has typically been a company whose focus has been on the user experience and that’s largely the same today, at least when marketing to their base. Their yearly events tell a different story, often using those to inform the tech industry of serious performance gains, all of which are warranted. The A8 processor is a beast of a processor and one that offers impressive performance gains over the previous generation. The iPhone 6 checks plenty of boxes. It’s the first true big screen iPhone, follows their tradition of stellar hardware build and continues to ship with upgrades abound. In a year that saw so many upgrades, why are they continuing to ship iPhones with a paltry 1GB of RAM?
When you look at the history of RAM usage in the iPhone, you can see its not something which gets upgraded often. The first iPhone and iPhone 3G both had 128MB of RAM. Apple doubled it to 256MB with the iPhone 3GS. The iPhone 4 also saw it double to 512GB, which continued with the iPhone 4S. Starting with the iPhone 5, released in September of 2012, 1GB of RAM become the new standard. Both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus have 1GB of RAM on the SoC.
Apple’s iOS has a reputation of being extremely efficient. As the maker of both hardware and software, it allows their engineers to optimize the operating system specifically for the hardware. It’s worked well for them with both computers and mobile devices. They aren’t in a position of having to throw hardware at a software problem. Even older hardware with outdated specifications could provide for a good, overall user experience. The iPhone 3G was released in June, 2010 and wasn’t discontinued until September, 2012. How many smartphones are still on shelves for well over 2 years? The iPad 2 is yet another example. It was released in March, 2012 and it was still selling when it was discontinued in March, 2014.
Given the advantages of software optimization, it might not be terribly fair to look at how much RAM ships on flagship smartphones from competitors. Still, it’s worth noting that the Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One M8, Moto X (2014) all ship with 2GB of RAM. Microsoft’s budget Lumia 830 comes with 1GB of RAM, but that phone also costs significantly less than the iPhone 6, available at just $449 off-contract. The only iOS device shipping with 2GB of RAM is the iPad Air 2, but that uses the A8X which is a different SoC.
Would the added 1GB of RAM resulted in a significant performance boost or even cut down on applications crashing? Would it have an adverse effect on battery life? With the ever increasing feature set of the base operating system, it would seem like most, if not all users would benefit from double the RAM? Clearly Apple still feels good about adding more RAM, otherwise the iPad Air 2 would not have seen upgrades. Beyond the operating system, developers continue to push the envelope of what’s capable on a mobile device. I’ve yet to meet a developer who thought less RAM was a good idea.
We’ve come to know Apple as the company where experience matters the most, but you have to question some of their decisions of late. They doubled storage in all of their iPhones, save for the one that needed it most; the 16GB model. They released a new iPad mini 3 that saw zero performance improvements. And this year’s flagship iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus each ship with 1GB of RAM, matching the specs from the 2012 iPhone 5. Is this enough RAM, a case of cutting corners for profit or leaving an opportunity for the iPhone 6S to show significant improvements?