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I'm looking to close a deal on an iPhone. What I am having difficulty understanding is the difference between 16GB and 32GB. When does it matter if you have 32GB and 16GB?

I understand, of course, the technical difference (free space capacity on the internal storage). As a casual smartphone user (have an Android but don't have many apps on it), and a mobile developer, I'm not sure I need 32GB. (I think my Android phone as 8GB, and I'm not using more than half.)

So when does it really matter? What are the "use-cases," if you will, for someone needing or using 32GB but not 16GB?

I'm also not planning to get a data plan, if that matters.

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I don't know what plans are available where you live, but check to be sure not getting a data plan is an option; a data plan is often mandatory. –  Daniel Lawson Sep 20 '12 at 16:36
    
The problem on the iPhone is that you can't expand memory with an external memory card. So choose carefully for your needs. –  R. M. Sep 20 '12 at 16:40
    
@DanielLawson where I live, it's quite possible to get an iPhone phone plan, without a data plan. You just need to jump through some hoops, like getting a cut (mini) sim card. –  ashes999 Sep 20 '12 at 17:00
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My use case for getting a 64GB was that I was replacing a near full 30 GB iPod, and a standalone GPS unit. So that demanded a device with more than 32 GB of storage just for music / video / podcasts and a GPS navigation App. –  MrDaniel Sep 20 '12 at 18:22
    
Please be polite and mention the reason if you DV. –  ashes999 Sep 27 '12 at 16:12
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3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

There's no difference besides the storage capacity.

As the iPhone does not have an option to extend the memory after purchase, you have to choose the right amount of storage right from the beginning.

You can always manage how much space you use by manually choosing which data to sync (music, photos, movies, apps).

Generally more available space gives you the freedom of not having to manage your sync settings too much.

  • 16GB should be fine for most people, especially if they are willing to make compromises regarding sync settings.
  • 32GB is good if your like to take lots of photos or have a large music library.
  • 64GB is good if you record HD movies which increase in size very quickly the longer you record.
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Other than cost (for the initial purchase and potentially to repair or replace it) and size, there is no measurable difference in performance, battery life or other function between any of the iPhone 5 models for sale (and certainly within the same carrier in case one LTE model uses slightly more power than another). The same goes for each iPhone (and iPad and iPod) model going back to the first generation of hardware.

Rather than focus on the marketing terms, I like to point out that the usable space isn't really 16 GB on the entry level devices.

A quick survey of friends has shown that you can expect the following amounts of usable space on an iPhone 5 with iOS 6:

  • 13.70 GB of space on the 16 GB model
  • 28.00 GB of space on the 32 GB model
  • 57.20 GB of space on the 64 GB model

This is the space you will have once the OS is loaded and you start to put HD movies, 28 megapixel panoramic photos and HD quality video onto the device. I have used a 16 GB model iPhone 4 for two years and as a moderately heavy user of iOS apps for work, do constantly run low on space on the device.

my 13.75 GB iPhone 4 is constantly low on space

I have paid for iTunes Match, and only sync one episode of the 15 podcasts (audio only) so the audio portion is really the songs I listen to all the time. I do have 200 Apps on the device, but the combined load of the data plus the application of the top 30 takes up 6.5 GB of space. The rest of the 170 apps use less than 30 MB of space (that is 0.03 GB) and they sit in folders on screens 4 and 5 of my layout taking neither screen real estate nor storage space.

Before I dive in and give some more advice, I'll leave you with one piece of what I hope is wisdom. Consider how much it costs to replace the device if you drop it on a cement sidewalk. Also, consider whether you already know how much you will spend on apps - a new user might be better off not being "phone-rich" and "app-poor" from the start. When I bought my "13.75 GB iPhone", I chose to invest in AppleCare plus rather than more RAM. Each person buying the device can certainly live with 16 GB by taking time to prune things, pay for iTunes Match and clear out video and large game apps periodically so it starts to become how much you value your time and whether you will really use the phone as a computer or just make calls and play games on it. Neither is wrong, just that we all have different use cases.

Since the hardware is identical other than storage size, each of us now has a framework to decide if you'll also have an iPod touch in a larger capacity or an iPad (I had a 32 GB iPad when I got this phone and now carry a 64 GB iPad to compensate for my phone's limited storage on the go) and want to skimp on your iPhone. By looking at where else you could spend that up charge for a 32 GB model on perhaps more apps, more insurance, or more eating dinner out. Balance how precious (and valuable in a $ sense) your time is and know picking a smaller device will mean you might have to choose what to do when it fills rather than just go on that weekend trip knowing you can take minutes of video and hundreds of pictures without having to delete some apps that you can re-download when you get home.

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FYI, I'm gearing for 4S, not iPhone 5. Everything you said pretty much still applies though. +1 for the wisdom. –  ashes999 Sep 20 '12 at 19:49
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The difference is 16GB of storage.

How big is your iTunes library? Do you want to carry movies and TV shows on your phone in case you happen to want to watch them while waiting somewhere? How big are the last 1000 photos you've taken in your iPhoto library? Do you like to shoot video with your phone?

Then, what about apps? Some apps are much larger than others. GarageBand and Pages in particular are not small.

There is no external storage like SD card slots, so the capacity you buy is the capacity the device has for its lifetime. For me, 16GB doesn't fit the songs alone I'd want on my iPod, let alone photos, videos, and other app content. On the other hand, one would need to shoot and store a lot of video to run into the 64GB limit (or want to keep a lot of feature-length movies on the phone just in case).

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Are there GB sized apps for iPhone? Really? I thought the limit is 20MB per app. –  ashes999 Sep 20 '12 at 17:01
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Apps themselves can be quite large. Here is a snap of the largest 10 apps in my iTunes library. Games and productivity apps are clearly the largest - many over 500 MB. What really takes space is the data. See this snap for the data behind my answer to this same question. –  bmike Sep 20 '12 at 17:35
    
As far as I know, there is no limit on the size of iOS apps. There is a limit on how large of an app you can download over 3G or (presumably) LTE, and that limit was raised from 20 to 50MB in March 2012. –  Tyler Wayne Jan 12 '13 at 8:08
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