The time was, you can pull off the back cover of the phone and easily replace a new battery and microSD card. In addition to feeling like a double agent in a spy movie, this extra flexibility gave Android phone fans some welcome ammunition to praise for their Apple rivals. Things have changed though.
Phones today are slimmer, slimmer and more powerful than ever, but we are also losing more and more features as the years go by. Replaceable batteries are a distant memory, and even the powerful, seemingly immortal headphone jack is almost eradicated from modern flagships.
The latest feature in the intersection of smartphone development? Expandable storage.
It is fair to say that Samsung is considered to be ‘Apple’ in the Android world. Its handset is widely regarded as offering one of the most premium smartphone experiences around, both in terms of hardware and functionality, as well as price. Not only that, but the South Korean technology giant also tends to jump on board trends created by Apple.
Yes, we know, there’s blasphemy in the holy halls of the Android Temple, but it’s true.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that expandable storage is disappearing as an alternative to smartphones,” said Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight.
“Apple has always used this approach, committing customers to buy more expensive, large memory variants instead of an affordable aftermarket memory card. With market leader Samsung leaving expandable memory on its latest S21 smartphones, it looks like this option will follow the 3.5mm headphone jack in oblivion. ”
Ah, the much-missed headphone jack. Remember when Apple killed it? Samsung released video ads that made fun of Apple, only to pull them out later when they dropped the port from their own Galaxy flagship line.
Exactly the same thing happened when it came to removing the previously included Galaxy S21 charging plug as well. While the company has shown that it can reverse decisions – it removed the microSD slot in the Galaxy S6 and brought it back in the Galaxy S7 in 2016 – we can not really see it restarting the expandable storage franchise.
We focus especially on Samsung, as the company is quite reliable for trends in the Android world. Although we can not guarantee that other manufacturers will follow suit, it is quite likely, especially when looking at the trend of removing the headphone jack.
At the time of writing, the flagship flagship microSD slot phones include last year’s Galaxy S20 and Note 20 Ultra, Sony Xperia 1 II and Xperia 5 II, LG V60 ThinQ and Xiaomi Mi 10i, to name a few great examples.
Opposition or acceptance?
Humans are unstable, and it can be argued that thanks to the bombardment of 24-hour memes, mind-rotting TikTok videos and constant news cycles, our memories have never been shorter.
Do you remember when the idea of removing the headphone jack seemed ridiculous? Ask the average person on the street about it today, and they will more than likely barely register Before Times, and continue happily with AirPods or AirPods-like clones that are properly connected to their ears. The more cynical among us may think that the headphone jack is primarily motivated by selling wireless earbuds, but that is a completely different story.
“It will be interesting to see how this trend develops in the long run,” said Bill Nagy, an independent TMT analyst and consultant.
“Apple faced setbacks from consumers to remove the headphone jack, but it had no immediate effect on iPhone sales in the two years after the move. However, Android-based phones are known for their flexibility, a feature that is well regarded by Android users. Increased removal of the ability to use microSD cards, especially by replacing it with cloud storage, is likely to increase the number of Android consumers.
“Other Android manufacturers will want to consider the market reaction to Samsung’s move to inform about their future development cycle.”
Hardcore Android users – the kind of people who dive into the world of unlockable bootstraps, custom ROMs and frequent various Android forums – are likely to choose to boycott microSD-less Samsung phones, but they make up a small percentage of sales.
Not only that, but OnePlus (a company widely regarded as catering to Android enthusiasts), has never offers expandable storage, and still seems to have a positive effect. That remains true for the brand new OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro.
Do you even need expandable storage?
Today, you can quite convincingly claim that most people do not need expandable storage. Thanks to the wide availability of cloud storage solutions such as Google Drive and Photos, you can easily store your files and media online, and save space on your phone for apps and media files you want instant access to (such as episodes of your favorite program. -watch on a long flight).
Beyond that, there is also the fact that despite advances in technology, microSD transfer speeds remain much slower than the phone’s built-in NVMe storage, which provides much faster and smoother performance. Yes, it’s a bit geeky, and will not really interest the casual user, but it’s a point worth mentioning.
The problem, however, lies in the fact that we are seeing things like 8K video recording become more common in new phones. If you are an avid videographer, chew on board storage in no time. In addition, services like Google Drive and Google Photos are no longer completely free – you have to pay a monthly fee when you exceed your free 15 GB storage limit.
You could (convincingly) argue that removing expandable storage options is a way for companies to push their own cloud storage solutions in the future, such as Samsung and the OnePlus cloud services, to list a few examples. If you have not already detected it, this may cause the headphone jack / wireless headphone sales situation to resume.
At a much less subtle level, this also allows companies to follow the Apple method of pushing higher-capacity devices to higher price points.
“Ultimately, that means if you want a high-capacity smartphone, you have to choose a more expensive model instead of increasing the memory at a later date with a memory card,” says Wood.
This, of course, is all presumption. Maybe Samsung will bring back expandable storage along with the headphone jack in a nostalgia-laden retro product recall.
Maybe manufacturers will make phones a little thicker to give us larger batteries, which can also be replaced again. Hell, we can even see phones with removable covers like the old Nokia days.