Mobility

Is external storage expansion set to vanish on the mobile platform?

Mobile storage expansion could be in danger of vanishing. Jack Wallen offers up reasons for and against this hot topic.

Recently, Hugo Barra (VP of Xioami) announced that microSD cards are dead—or should be—and that Xiaomi flagship devices would soon no longer ship with the ability to expand storage. This comes on the heels of Samsung stripping their flagship device, the Galaxy S6, of the ability to make use of the microSD storage.

On both accounts, this comes as a surprise. One of the big selling points of the Android platform has always been the ability to expand the storage to fit your needs. Now, it seems, that feature is being stripped away. What gives?

According to Barra, the reasons for his being "fundamentally against" microSDs on high performances devices are:

  • Reliability—Barra claims the cards are prone to failure
  • Performance—Barra claims so many cards are "fake" and thus perform far below industry standards
  • App crashing—Apps placed on external cards are prone to crashing
  • End user confusion—The claim here is that end users do not understand the difference between internal and external storage

I get where Barra is coming from. The external microSD card simply cannot stand up to the performance of internal memory (especially Samsung's new high-performance chip). As to the proliferation of "fake" cards, this has been known for some time ... and the counterfeit cards (usually found on the likes of Ebay) are vastly inferior to the real thing. However, his claim that microSD cards are prone to failure, at least to me, seems a bit of a stretch. I've been using the devices for years and have yet to have a single one fail. Period. Every card I've used has withstood formatting, reformatting, hot swapping, a steady stream of writes ... the list goes on. Not one failure—even, in one instance, when the device housing the card suffered a dip into waters most foul.

There is one issue that Barra fails to address—the danger of microSD cards injected with malware. This, my friends, is a reality that could easily cripple your device or steal your data. We've seen the rise of malware infected USB flash drives, so the spread of such infections will most likely spread to their smaller cousins.

The rise in lack of expansion seems to fall into a parallel with certain manufacturers sealing their devices shut. Instead of having an Android phone that allows you to add as much external storage as you like and replace the battery, the devices are swimming in Apple-like waters. Now, if your battery fails, it's time to warranty the device. To me, this seems counter to the very heart of the Android ecosystem.

But manufacturers are going to do what they do—even when the masses raise their voices.

But all is not a complete loss. You want your Android complete with external storage capability, all you have to do is step down from the flagship device or head over to devices like the HTC One M9—a flagship device that retains the microSD card.

Does size really matter?

I've been using smartphones for a very long time and have never run out of room. I know people that have—100% of those people were working with low-end devices with a minimal 8 GB of internal storage. The standard minimum internal storage today is 32 GB. Most users are not going to fill that space up. Even those who use their devices as music players would be hard-pressed to fill that storage (especially since a good number of that user-base streams at least a portion of their music).

My current device is the Verizon-branded Nexus 6. It's the low-end model with only 32 GB of internal storage—and no microSD expansion available. I have every app installed I need and still have 22.70 GB remaining. I cannot imagine using the entire 32 GB of storage.

From my perspective, mobile computing isn't a complete means to an end. This isn't a desktop where you store all critical files required for life. However, some users don't see it that way. I know a lot of people who have ditched the desktop and laptop in favor of a flagship smartphone or tablet. What happens when those devices no longer offer expandable storage?

The answer to that is simple—cloud storage. The problem with that answer is equally as simple—data. Working with cloud storage (and streaming services) eats up data from your plan. And, if your plan is like mine, going over that data limit can be costly. So certain cross sections of users could be looking at the need to limit what they store on their devices as well as making sure they spend much of their time on available Wi-Fi.

If the likes of Barra has their way, Android expansion will go the way of the Palm Pre. Although the average user won't be bothered by this vanishing act, power users will. When this happens, which side of the fence will you fall on? Is storage expansion a feature that draws you to one mobile platform or another? Or has the size of internal storage on mobile devices superseded the need for expansion?

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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