Storage Space is at a Premium. So what’s being done?

As our smartphones and tablets get smarter, our on-device storage space continues to shrink.  The first real camera phone was introduced by Sharp and released in Japan in November of 2000.  The J-Phone (J-SHO4) was capable of creating images at a whopping 0.11 megapixels.

In the United States, our first foray into the camera phone era came with the Sanyo-SCP 5300.  This tiny flip phone was capable of VGA images of 640 x 480, and the phone’s non-expandable memory allowed you to store up to 66 pictures at this level of quality.

Today’s smart phones are far more advanced, with the new Galaxy S8 boasting a 12 megapixel camera, capable of capturing 4K video in real time.  The question now becomes, where are we putting all of these images and videos?

The smartphone industry has done an admirable job of continuing to increase the capabilities of our new portable devices, but the developments and advancements in storage capabilities seem to lag behind the advancements in our image and video quality.

So far, the answer to the storage question has been centered on “expansion slots”.  Most top tier phone smartphone manufacturers are adding storage ports to allow the expansion of storage on the devices, but that still doesn’t quite go far enough.

Fortunately, more technology is on the way.

A new solution

With the upcoming release of iOS 11, Apple’s 11th version of their mobile operating system, Apple has announced support for two new image and video technologies that enhance both compression and video and image quality.

The High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) and High Efficiency Image File (HEIF) formats were created in 2015, and boast enhanced image and video quality coupled with a significant saving of storage space.

The High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) is a video compression standard that provides roughly double the data compression rate of the widely used AVC standard (MPEG-4), while also providing significantly improved video quality at the same bit rate.

So what does this all mean for you and me?

Since the new HEVC standard can support resolutions up to 8192 x 4320 (including 8K UHD), it means that our smart devices will continue down the path of getting even smarter, and the video content we create with our devices will be capable of resolutions we’d never dreamed possible.

The other standard iOS 11 will support is the High Efficiency Image File (HEIF) format.

Without getting too technical in the description, the HEIF picture format is basically a still-version of the HEVC video format.  Directly focused on enhancing image capabilities over that of our current JPEG standard, the HEIF format provides a smaller file size for images, and does so while providing enhanced image quality.

HEIF is reported to support file sizes that can be up to 50% smaller than a standard JPEG image.  And once again, we as consumers are the winners.  We can enjoy the benefits of significant storage space savings on our devices coupled with significantly improved image quality.

No need for new phones

While Apple is indeed the first to announce device support for these standards via their iOS 11 operating system, we can all expect other leading device manufacturers will soon follow suit.

That means that along with storage expansion, continuously improving camera quality and sleeker packaging for our smartphones, we’re also going to enjoy advancements in technology that will bring us better quality photos and videos that take up less space than their predecessors.

Keeping in mind that JPEG technology that is currently supported by all manufacturers is now 24 years old, it’s exciting to see the aspect of storage space being addressed in these new emerging standards.

It’s an interesting twist to the conventional evolution of storage. In the past the manufacturers, like Apple, would continually increase the storage of their devices to keep up with storage demands. Every year we would see new phones with higher storage capacity.

However, with this new compression technology, Apple has turned this trend around. Instead of increasing the storage of their devices they’ve found a way to decrease the size of the files on the device.

The benefit to iPhone users is that they can now break the cycle of upgrading phones every few years or the painful task of deleting/transferring photos off their phones to create more space.

This unique approach in addressing the issue of storage bears watching. In technology we don’t often see efficiency being used to overcome limitations, so Apple should be applauded for coming up with this innovative solution.

It will be interesting to see if we are truly in a new era of storage management or if we will just revert back to increasing storage capacities year after year.  If our phones are 3TB in capacity in 5 years, we’ll have our answer.