Don't be confused by the 128GB iPad. It's not for you.

Don't be confused by the 128GB iPad. It's not for you.

Summary: Apple have announced a 128GB version of the iPad. Don't worry though, unless you have a very specialised job, you don't need one.

TOPICS: Tablets, iPad

Yesterday, Twitter and the tech blogs were all of a flutter about a 128GB iPad. The problem, it seems, is that this thing is hugely expensive. That's OK--you're not going to buy one.

Thumbnail - 128GB iPad
"I can haz tons of local storage?"
(Credit: Apple; ZDNet)

Their own way

First thing to consider about the iPad is that iOS is the only mobile operating system that does not provide a way to expand its storage. (Although some devices like the Nexus 7 don't have a slot, the OS provides a way to do it.) That means that if you happen to need a ton of onboard storage, Apple has to solder it onto the logic board when you buy it.

A Surface RT, for example, can come with 64GB of onboard storage, but you can buy a 64GB microSD card for it for some small amount of money. But this is not an option on the iPad. If Apple just allowed you to plug in a microSD card, this whole thing would be a non-issue.

Who's it for?

Typically, enterprises that buy a bunch of iPads as an application platform typically buy the latest version (always the big one, not the Mini), and in virtually every case buy the 32GB version in black. They also typically don't buy a cellular modem option.

Businesses tend to buy 32GB to give them some expansion room. If you're buying a couple of thousand iPads, because the memory is not upgradable and because you want them to last a few years, 32GB gives you a bit of wiggle room. So why the huge leap to 128GB?

It's simple--there are plenty of complex, specialised situations where you don't have very good connectivity and need a large local cache.

Say you're doing workshop-based training in a bank branch. The instructor asks you to watch a video and complete a short exercise. A 32GB iPad is fine for this because you have Wi-Fi connectivity, and a nice, fat pipe out of the cloud. Streaming the video in this arrangement is fine--you don't need much local storage.

But say you're responsible for commanding an operation to put out a fire in a remote chemical plant? You're going to need a ton of documentation to do that job, and maybe have absolutely no connectivity. Even if you do have connectivity, time is of the essence. A colleague who's suffering from chemical burns doesn't need to hear excuses about "2G being slow" whilst the paramedic is trying to download information on how to treat him.

And there are tons more of these examples where you have very specialised problem domains and either problematic connectivity or would rather not use what connectivity you have. For example:

  • High resolution medical imaging: You might be working in a hospital with amazing connectivity and pulling massive images off of a server is a doddle, or you might be working in one in the middle of a war zone where investing in IT infrastructure is not the primary concern

  • Electronic flight bags for pilots: A normal paper flight bag (containing the paperwork and charts needed for a safe flight) weighs 40lb (18kg). On every single flight, every day, worldwide--that is a staggering amount of carbon footprint to spend just moving paper about. Lee Armstong, technical director at the software company that makes the popular Plane Finder app reckons they track 35,000 commercial flights each day. Average weight of a European is 156lb (71kg)--so that's about the equivalent of about an additional 9,000 passengers per day, just wasted carting paperwork about

  • High-end video or music multimedia work: Not my area, but I presume there are cases where you have large chunks of data to slice and dice around locally and you're using a device like an iPad rather than a traditional workstation to do this.

To reiterate, this is always specialised work. Most people don't need this much local storage, especially not when connectivity is getting better, generic cloud storage is getting more mature, and content providers are getting more capable. For example, now if I buy MP3s from Amazon, it goes straight into Cloud Player and I never need a local copy at all. Categorically, though, this type of lightweight domestic use is not what a 128GB iPad is all about.


There is another point to all of this, which is that this is just how the market works. Any number on a spec sheet gets pushed up over time, whether it's the amount of persistent local storage, main memory, screen resolution, whatever. Give it enough time without the appearance of a 128GB iPad and people would have been complaining that Apple didn't have a 128GB iPad.

Although maybe not--it could be that because of the maturity of cloud services and the drive toward "the cloud is your hard disk" both in the PC and post-PC worlds means that local storage becomes less relevant. My Chromebook only has 16GB of local storage, but because of that specific design of that device as being just a cloud terminal, I'm not sure it matters.

So, the 128GB iPad is not for you. Unless you like to buy the top-end model of every gadget on the market, in which case Apple is waiting for your call.

Topics: Tablets, iPad

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  • 128 GB!

    A lot more room to download iTunes movies! Yeahh.....
    • That's actually true

      The "analysis" in this article is the same old tired nonsense that we hear every time a new platform or expanded storage is announced. The reasoning always is, "Who the heck needs THAT?!" We heard this about tablets before the iPad came out, and we are now hearing this about touchscreen notebooks and desktops.

      So because these "analysts" cannot picture themselves utilizing the new technology, they assume it must be a niche product for "specialists".

      So, Matt, you've never filled up a 64GB iPad? I do it all the time, and constantly have to struggle with what to remove and what to keep on mine. Why? Because I travel a lot, and my iPad stores all of my video and music to consume in the plane, in the airport, in the hotel, etc.

      That is a pretty pedestrian use of the storage space, not some kind of "specialist".

      You are correct to point out Apple's dumb choice to exclude any kind of expandable storage such as micro SD cards, but then you make the confounding, illogical leap that "normal" people will not need the extra storage space. Your analysis is an oxymoron.

      Apple could have been a real hero here by keeping prices the same, but bumping the storage capacity at each tier. Instead, they chose the money-grubbing route of adding a new, higher price tier for the couple of extra dollars it takes to add a little more memory.
      • You are, in a way, a specialist

        While I concede a lot of people travel regularly (there are also a lot of paramedics and firefighters, by the way), your argument that you fill up your 64gb iPad because you travel a lot invalidates the author's argument is a bit weak. While it's not treating chemical burns, having a ton of media in your pocket for airplane fights is a fairly specialized use. It may be more common than the scenarios set forth here, but I would argue it's far less common than the way a typical tablet device is used. Also, the typical tablet users were the primary target of this article.
        • @backpacker299, not sure you understand the market

          My use is very typical, not specialized. In fact, during the introduction of the first iPad, Steve Jobs measured the iPad's battery endurance by talking about its ability to keep a charge for long flights. Using a tablet for travel is one of the most common uses.

          Your thoughts about what is "typical" or "normal" may be skewed by your own personal experience.

          Maybe you don't fly much, but the next time you do, look around and count the number of tablets people are using. Those people are watching video and engaging with content stored on their tablets, not streamed through a network connection. Those people are all making choices about what to put on their iPad based on how much storage space is available.
          • My Girlfriend flies all the time...

            She watches maybe 1-2 movies on a flight. Doesn't take up much space. Unless you are spending a lot of time in third world countries that haven't discovered wifi yet, I fail to see how even 16 gigs isn't enough room to store your entertainment for the flight. You can just remove the crap you watched and download more for the flight back when you land. Why would you want to fill your device with movies that you just watched and probably won't watch again very soon?

            Remember when the Ipad came out and people were like "WTF am I supposed to do with a computer that has barely got any storage and only connects to WiFi?!?"? Look how that turned out. Billions of dollars in sales later and the 64GB model is by far the least popular of all. While the 16GB WiFi model sells like hotcakes.

            This is just a "Me too" effort to match the storage of the Surface, steal a little of it's thunder (as if surface doesn't get enough bad press already) and meet the needs of a couple niche markets. You don't need 50 movies on your Ipad to get through that red eye flight to Vegas. Try Xanax and Vodka. It's way cheaper.
          • Cost, Simply

            The reason 16Gb versions of tablets sell like hotcakes comes down to cost of ownership, quite simply. Apple is selling a premium product at premium prices, while items like the Nexus 7 (which I own), have low amounts of storage because they are supposed to be inexpensive alternatives to the iPad. My Nexus 7 has 16 Gb and I forego using it in favor of my smartphone for podcasts because I have a 32Gb microSDHC card which means I don't have to micromanage storage every weekend. At an average of 300 Mb per HD podcast and the number of podcasts that interest me, I could fill up 128 Gb in 3 or 4 weeks. Granted, I am being lazy, but the device is not supposed to be onerous to use. If the next Nexus 7 coming up in May has 64 Gb I may well buy it, to be honest, but never an iPad... and it comes down to cost, simply.
          • Same old crap

            I know this is kind of old, but I was reading and had to comment. Actually created log in to comment. Everyone is boasting this cloud crap, bottom line is, you do not have control of your files, someone else does. For any perceived transgression you can be cut off from your data with no recourse. The real thought behind it is if they control the media, the movies and music, it will be harder for people to copy right infringe it, because if it is all streamed, your hardware doesn't need to include the audio and video decoding that is sometimes used to exploit copy protection, therefore making it harder to crack. As for Apple it is the same thing all the time, no user upgradable storage because they want to sell a new device to frequently for that. For years my $3000 Mac Pro purchase could last 5 years plus, just by adding memory, increasing storage and upgrading video cards. Those days are over. This is why none of these Apple devices have a removable battery, not cause they are slimmer or sexier or better, because if Apple puts a non-removable battery in them, it forces you to upgrade in a year or maybe two when the battery no longer holds a good charge. It is not a maybe it is a fact. And not only does it put an end to third party competition for replacement batteries which it does a good job of to. But bottom line when your battery starts to fail you gotta buy a new and the sooner the better for them. Likewise if the memory is only the soldered on the board memory, when you out grow it, you gotta buy a whole new $500 plus device. Pure greed and no body holds Apple accountable for it, everyone wants to say you don't need this, you don't need that, only a specialist needs it. When did it become a crime to engineer a product with more than the average person needs to be included? When did it become acceptable for Apple to tell people that they can't be the system admin of their own device? But people keep buying it so this is what everyone gets stuck with.
            Ray Strayer
        • I'd really like to see the evidence.

          "but I would argue it's far less common than the way a typical tablet device is used. "

          Evidence, please.
      • It's all about media

        Indeed. I've got a 32, and I don't keep my music library on it, but if I keep one or two big games (like Modern Combat) on it, that leaves me barely enough room for a season of an SD TV show. If I had a retina display, I'd probably want HD, which doubles the amount of space. When I travel, I want a movie or two for the plane or whatever...32 or even 64 gets used up pretty dang fast.

        Part of me wonders if Apple would ever consider an MicroSD expansion. I would imagine not, partially because it wouldn't fit with their "we don't trust third parties to get hardware right and not screw up our user experience" philosophy, for better or worse, and partially because they've used that "no removable storage" thing as a bit of leverage with the big media companies concerned about piracy.

        The price is still annoying, but then the price of flash memory hasn't dropped as fast for the higher capacities as it has for the lower ones. And Apple's never been one to lower their margins.
        Eric Oehler
        • No, they won't.

          Part of it falls under the add-on policy. Anyone selling HW or SW for the iPad today is sending 30% to Apple. For any industry standard device you want to plug into an iPad, you have to buy a $40 adapter from Apple... and it's one at a time. So there's that.

          There will be some buyers who, if given the option of an SD card, would buy a lower-end iPad than they would have otherwise, and then just double that memory with a $30-$60 SD card, of which Apple gets no money. Apple could play the cable/satellite TV game and make you pay extra for this to be enabled, I guess. Otherwise, they're absolutely going to lose money by making that connector -- it's highly unlikely SD expansion is a big deciding factor for anyone's iPad versus buying decision.

          This plays out differently in other markets. Plenty of Android devices have SD card slots, they work fine, etc. If you need that, and you're sold on Android, plenty of choices. It doesn't prevent the availability of higher-Flash devices... I bought a 64GB Transformer. But for Asus, they're rather sell the 32GB Transformer than lose the sale to Samsung.

          And in Apple's case, this missing slot may also drive upgrades. You started out ok, but now you've got big fat Retina-enhanced apps on your 32GB iPad. Rather than a trip to Best Buy or Amazon for a cheap memory card, you either live with it, or (as many do), plunk down big cash on the next release. Again, for the Android market, you have the same scenario, but if that missing SD slot on your Nexus 10 is a big problem for you, you probably upgrade to someone else's tablet. And of course, Android apps may contain bitmaps, but it's not all bitmaps, most of the UI is vector-based. So Android apps don't bloat the way iOS + Retina + iPad apps do.
        • Tradition.

          I wonder how much of this comes down to tradition vs. practical. While I don't pretend to understand the finer points of tablet hardware design, I suspect it isn't that difficult to engineer an SD card slot. What is much harder to do is to convince Apple designers that it is a good idea even though Steve Jobs nixed the idea. There is some hope though, vis-a-vis the iPad mini.
      • Matt knows all, and sees all ;-)

        "Don't be confused by the 128GB iPad. It's not for you."

        Matt, you are wrong on both counts. I'm not at all "confused by the 128GB iPad". It makes perfect sense for some people (myself included).

        Also, saying "It's not for you." is also WRONG! This is the iPad I've been waiting for. There are many people such as myself who would love to have 128GB of storage to hold the many large files required for work and/or play.
        Harvey Lubin
      • Agree completely.

        The blogger is forgetting that media alone takes up many gigabytes of storage space. He is also assuming that the major consumer of the iPad is business, which is false, for now. Considering the "average Joe/Jane" masses are buying iPads primarily as media consumption devices, massive storage space is critical. Media eats storage space like candy. The iPad includes an HD video camera. HD videos consumes massive amounts of storage. There are myriad reasons why an average consumer would want the 128GB model.

        In my own case, my 64GB iPad is always within 5% of being full and I don't even carry everything I'd like to carry. For example, I'd someday like to be able to carry my entire music collection with me everywhere. Right now, I have 160GB of music that I ripped from my massive CD collection. Even the 128GB model couldn't hold it. I also transfer HD shows from my TiVo for viewing on the road. I have a few of my full length movies on there, as well. It would take atomic scale memory storage to hold my entire movie collection (about 90 terabytes minimum) on an iPad, but I hope technology gets there one day. Then add in 60 or so applications with their data. As I said, I'm at full capacity all the time and constantly shuffling things on and off of my 64GB iPad.

        What this article really amounts to is a plug for the microSD slot on his Surface. Basically, he's pouting and pointing out that he can make his Surface store 128GB, too, with an add-on purchase. Most of us don't care to carry around extra SD cards in order to store the stuff we use constantly. In fact, his arguments don't reflect the opinion of the majority of tablet users, or iPads wouldn't be the number 1 selling tablet by a long shot, despite not having a microSD slot. The Surface isn't even in the top 5.
        • 1-3GB per movie

          rip a DVD or download a movie and you get a file that's usually 700MB-1.5GB (go higher resolution or a longer movie and it might be 3GB or so). let's take an average of 2GB. MP3s are an average of a megabyte per minute, so 45MB for the average album. Assuming you copy media files onto your tablet and keep them there, a 64GB iPad could take 15-20 movies and 100 albums without breaking a sweat. I'm not sure there are a lot of people wanting to carry that much content around all the time either; certainly not that are prepared to pay $1000 for it. Need that much storage? Get a wireless external drive that connects to the iPad - or Surface - by Wi-Fi. Much cheaper.
          • crazy idea

            i have a crazy idea. instead of having a wifi drive with battery and all, how about we just package the nand wafer in a wafer thin plastic case and then have the supporting circuitry in the tablet itself. And then you could have like external slot where you can insert and remove this nand memory wafer module. would be pretty elegant wouldn't it?
      • Speednet is not all that wrong.

        Apart the profesionals in need of more memory, also travellers like me we like to have more memory for having your films and music always handy. Many time you don't know in what mood you will be and what you would like to watch or hear during your journeys !

        As what concerns the SD card, Steve Jobs , when he was asked why the ipad or the iphone did not have a SD slot, the answer was speed. The SD cards were not as fast as the flash memory, and still now they are not. In fact the real reason for the success of the ipad is speed of execution. You just tap on the display and you get what you need instantly. And so all the other manufacturer copied the ipad to give something almsot as good !
    • Anyone remember the iPod Classic?

      I remember people telling me..... "you won't need 30GB for music".... and then "you won't need 80GB for music".... and then "you won't need 160GB for music/videos." and I filled them all up.

      The only reason I don't get an iPad is the lack of storage expansion. Surface lets you attach actual hard drives to your device. Android has limitation (due to voltage) of flash sticks. But still, if they let us use SD cards, it wouldn't be a concern.

      128GB is fine is you have HD videos and lossless audio. Then you'd fill it up fairly easily... just like the iPod Classic. But then, if they didn't use that horrid Cirrus Logic sound chip, you wouldn't need lossless audio necessarily. I still love my WMA Pro 10 (24-bit / 48kHz) Dolby encoded audio on my Windows Phone which is probably the best audio format I've used since OGG.
      Lauren Glenn

      Q: you run out of space on your fixed storage non-expandable tablet. Do you;

      a. Buy a new fixed non-expandable tablet with two times the storage
      b. Buy a tablet that has modular and/or expandable storage

      If you answered a, you are either rich (congrats!) or you should take a long hard look at your life.

      The commenters saying "golly I fly a lot and my Ipad doesn't have enough room for all the movies".... do you realize that you can get a tablet that has an SD card slot and carry a sock-full of SD cards with you everywhere you go? Is getting a new $800 tablet really the solution?
      • Or... could just do what I do and download the content I need when I need it without having to worry about losing some little SD card or that card getting corrupted.

        I'll stick with the iPad. You stick with works best for you (and maybe you should examine your own life rather than suggesting that others examine theirs).
        • So you're going to need 128GB at a time?

          Apple-ites kept saying they didn't need expandable storage, they were all modern and used the cloud, who needs more than 32GB local storage.
          Now we get a 128GB iPad, and suddenly its all about of course we need 128GB local storage, we need to keep our whole movie and music collection on our iPad.
          So basically, if the iPad doesn't have it, its unnecessary and those who have it are foolish - until Apple gets it, then everybody should have it - what's wrong with you other people who don't have it.
          The self delusion is incredible.
          The worst example prior to this memory flap was how anything less than the retina display was horrible to look at - but any higher resolution is wasted and totally unnecessary.
          Then there's those who claim Apple must be the best device because they make the highest per-device profit! Astonishing!
          I've tried to be even handed in discussions comparing the various devices, but the arrogance and narrow-mindedness of many of the Apple proponents, typified by some of the respondents above is getting a little hard to take.
          As for this article, it basically just says that the author assumes that some use cases will need the storage, without actually investigating anything or producing any numbers. Its just an Apple self-lovefest.