Memory vs Storage: What’s the Difference & How Much of Each Do You Need? (UPDATED FOR iOS 12)

Several years back when I posted that the then newly released iPhone 6s had 2 GB of RAM, one scorn-filled comment disparaged that small amount of iPhone RAM, saying that Android devices typically have at least 8 GB of memory. I pointed out to the commenter that RAM is different from iPhone storage. Years later, people still aren't always clear on the difference between memory and storage, so I thought that I'd elaborate a bit here. Plus, people often wonder if they need more storage space on their iPhone, and if so, how much storage they should get, especially now that the iPhone Xs and Xs Max are here with 64, 256, or 512 GB of storage, and the iPhone XR has arrived with 64, 128, 0r 256 GB options to choose from. Let's get started. 

Related: Speed Up iPhone: How to Clear RAM on iPhone to Make It Faster

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RAM Definition & Meaning: Random Access Memory

RAM is commonly defined as random access memory or volatile working memory, the space where processing takes place. Storage is a non-volatile medium, such as a hard drive on a desktop computer and flash memory on the iPhone and iPad. iPhone RAM handles processes that are currently active, such as apps that are running or music that is playing. If you haven't used an app for a while, iOS pretty quickly kills any background processes in RAM so that performance doesn't suffer unless you have background app refresh on for that application. If RAM gets too overloaded, then things slow down. This is sometimes an issue with Android devices, but not much with iOS devices because iOS keeps tight control over what runs in the background.  

For a long time the iOS devices had less RAM than Android devices (1 GB on earlier iPhones and iPads), and sometimes Android users would make fun of this. But it's simply the case that iOS devices have needed less RAM because of greater efficiency and because Apple is able to optimize the software for its hardware, and the hardware for its software.


iPhone Storage: What Is a Gigabyte (GB) ? 

Storage on an iPhone or iPad refers to the amount of solid-state flash memory available for storing apps, music, documents, videos, games, and photos. The amount of storage available is described in GB, or gigabytes, and iPhone storage on current devices ranges from 32 GB to 512 GB. Apple's Operating System (iOS) typically takes up some of that space, so it won't all be available to you.

what is a gigabyte

Thanks to for this chart

iPhone Storage Full? How Much Storage Do I Need?

How much storage should you get? As much as you can afford. I have a movie on my iPad that takes up 5 GB of space. If you shoot high-definition video on your device, it can use up 150 MB for each minute of video. If you use your camera in burst mode, you'll be using up about 25 MB for each second the shutter is open. Some games can take up well over 1 GB of storage. Augmented Reality (AR) apps and games require even more iPhone storage. I opted for 64 GB on the iPad mini that I bought a few years back.

documents and data iphone

You can manage your storage by going to Settings > General > iPhone Storage. Here, you will be given recommendations for optimizing storage, such as enabling the option to store full resolution photos in the cloud and keeping smaller versions on my device. You'll be able to see how much space is being taken up by an app and all the files associated with it. In my case, the Videos app ranks at the top because of the movies on my iPad, followed by Photos & Camera. My Photo Library comes in at 1.8 GB. If you have an app that you no longer need, you can tap on the app name in the list, and the next screen will give you the opportunity to offload the app while preserving the data in case you wish to download it again in the future or to delete it completely along with the associated data.

Top Image Credit: Denys Prykhodov /

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Jim Karpen's picture

Jim Karpen holds a Ph.D. in literature and writing, and has a love of gizmos. His doctoral dissertation focused on the revolutionary consequences of digital technologies and anticipated some of the developments taking place in the industry today. Jim has been writing about the Internet and technology since 1994 and has been using Apple's visionary products for decades.