The real reason why micro SD card slots are disappearing from smartphones

A lot of technical reasons are being put forward by manufacturers as to why micro SD card slots are disappearing from smartphone, especially on high-end devices. But the real reason is a lot simpler to understand.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

Remember when we started carrying more data on our smartphones, and manufacturers gave us the ability to supplement the internal storage by popping in a cheap micro SD card? However, those days are coming to an end as manufacturers decided to put profits ahead of end user convenience.

There's a piece over on tech news site Engadget on the Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi and how it was decided that the flagship handsets shouldn't make use of micro SD cards. It's clear from the piece that Xiaomi's VP Hugo Barra thinks that having micro SD cards slots in smartphones is a bad idea.

Barra: "For high performance devices, we are fundamentally against an SD card slot."

Barra: "You think you're buying like a Kingston or a SanDisk but you're actually not, and they're extremely poor quality, they're slow, they sometimes just stop working, and it gives people huge number of issues, apps crashing all the time, users losing data, a lot of basically complaints and customer frustration."

Matías Duarte, Google's VP of design, is also quoted as saying that "in reality it's just confusing for users."

Now, as someone who's used micro SD cards in a variety of devices, I've not seen them cause crashing and instabilities, and having used them in a variety of applications, I would dispute the claim that SD cards from Kingston or SanDisk are "extremely poor quality." I can also honestly say that I've never found micro SD cards confusing.

The reason that smartphone manufacturers are ditching micro SD card slots in their devices, especially at the high end, is money. Manufacturers can't charge a premium for an SD card slot, but they can charge a $100 for a few extra gigabytes of flash storage.

What Apple began with the iPhone, other manufacturers are now doing with their smartphones. And from a making money point of view, it makes good sense. A 128GB iPhone 6 costs the consumer $200 more than the 16GB version, but adding that extra storage costs Apple less than $50.

For the consumer, this means having to decide up front how much storage they plan to need over the lifespan of the device, and a lot of hassle or even early obsolescence if space becomes an issue.

If there's an SD card slot on the device, then many users would buy the lowest-cost (and lowest margin) device, and boost that with a cheap micro SD card. I agree that it won't be as fast as internal storage, but for music, video, or apps that don't demand a high level or performance, it's going to be more than adequate.

On budget devices this is not so much the case, because the consumer base won't support paying a premium for a storage boost. This is why you continue to find micro SD card slots on lower-cost smartphones.

If you like removable batteries and micro SD card slots in your devices, you're going to find this need harder and harder to satisfy over the coming years.

See also:

iPhone or iPad external storage devices

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