Lawsuit Targets iOS Device Storage Capacity Deception

Apple is facing a lawsuit regarding the amount of storage on iOS devices, challenging “storage capacity misrepresentations and omissions relating to use of Apple’s iOS 8 operating system.” The lawsuit states that “Defendant fails to disclose to consumers that as much as 23.1% of the advertised storage capacity of the Devices will be consumed by iOS 8 and unavailable for consumers when consumers purchase Devices that have iOS 8 installed. Reasonable consumers, such as Plaintiff, do not expect this marked discrepancy between the advertised level of capacity and the available capacity of the Devices, as the operating system and other storage space unavailable to consumers occupies an extraordinary percentage of their Devices’ limited storage capacity.”

Calculating Storage Space

Some websites have derided this lawsuit, calling it “dumb,” but I don’t think it’s that dumb. I recently did a test, showing how much space you get on a 16 GB iPad mini – which is 12.73 GB after installing iOS 8 – and how little is left after you install all of Apple’s own apps, the ones the nudge you to add to the device. (I note that the complaint cites my article on page 7, as evidence of the amount of space available on an iPad after installing iOS 8.)

There’s also the case of “Other” space that is wasted. In my test, after installing iOS 8 and a number of apps, the iPad had over 1 GB of wasted space which displays as Other. (My 64 GB iPhone 5s currently shows over 2.5 GB Other space, and that number often gets up to 3-4 GB.)

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It’s common for iOS devices to have several GB of wasted space, because of Apple’s insufficient garbage collection routines. The only way to reclaim this space is to restore the device, and, even then, as in the example above, there is still a substantial chunk of space used.

The lawsuit also highlights the fact that iOS 8 takes up substantially more space than iOS 7, saying, “Plaintiff upgraded to iOS 8 with the belief that the upgrade would not substantially inhibit his available storage capacity. Defendant did not disclose in conjunction with upgrades to iOS 8 the additional storage capacity that would be consumed by the upgrade.” And, later, “Apple fails to disclose that upgrading from iOS 7 to iOS 8 will cost a Device user between 600 MB and 1.3 GB of storage space – a result that no consumer could reasonably anticipate.”

I agree that Apple should warn users about how much space the new OS will take up, perhaps stating that it will use X GB more than the previous version, or explain that if the current amount of free space is X GB, after the upgrade it will only by Y GB.

The space problem is compounded as there are more and larger displays for iOS devices. Since apps you install contain all the graphics for all available devices, they are getting bigger and bigger. It would make sense for iTunes – or iOS devices – to only install the graphics that specific devices need. This said, I understand why Apple does not do this. If you download an app to an older iPhone, then transfer the purchase to iTunes to later use on a larger device, the transferred app won’t have all the elements the larger device needs. Nevertheless, Apple could fix this, with a system that downloads all the app’s assets after you transfer the purchase.

Your Gigabytes Are Not the Same as My Gigabytes

The lawsuit also states:

“Defendant advertises the Devices using the decimal definition gigabyte, or GB.
Therefore the capacity of 8 GB Devices is advertised by Defendant as 8 billion bytes. The storage capacity of 16 GB devices is advertised as 16 billion bytes.

“In reality, nothing close to the advertised capacity of the Devices is available to end users. Indeed, the discrepancy between advertised and available capacity is substantial and beyond any possible reasonable expectation. For the Devices, the shortfall ranges from 18.1-23.1%.

“As noted above, although Defendant advertised based upon the decimal-based system of measurement, upon information and belief, the Devices display available capacity based upon the binary definitions. This is confusing even to the technically savvy because it prevents consumers from making the proverbial “apples to apples” comparison. Exacerbating this confusion is the fact that rather than using the GiB representation, as suggested by the ISQ, the graphic interface used on the Devices uses the abbreviation GB, even though it is apparently referring to gibibytes and not gigabytes.”

I confess that I no longer know which system is used on which device. Apple changed the way they present the hard drives on their devices several years ago, when OS X Snow Leopard was released. This led to users noting a large difference in the amount of space on their hard drives; yet this was just do to a different way of calculating hard drive space. Of course, the difference is much less important on a desktop device, which generally has much more storage (256 GB is the norm for SSDs; 1 TB or more for hard drives) than mobile devices, and it’s easy to connect an external hard drive if you need more storage. But it would be good for all manufacturers to straighten this out.

Apple explains the way they calculate, but this comes off as niggardly. The company says:

“The way decimal and binary numeral systems measure a GB is what causes a 32 GB storage device to appear as approximately 28 GB when detailed by its operating system, even though the storage device still has 32 billion bytes (not 28 billion bytes), as reported.”

But if that’s the case, why market the device as a 32 GB device, and deceive users? In other words, on the box it’s 32 GB, but one you connect it to iTunes, or check the Settings app, it’s only 28 GB. That’s just lying. You wouldn’t be able to get away with this for any other type of consumer product.

One more thing. The lawsuit mentions a pop-up add that offers to sell iCloud storage when a device becomes full. Well, it’s just wrong; I tested it. When the device is full, you get an alert telling you so; it doesn’t try to sell you anything. I suspect that the ad they discuss displays when your iCloud storage is getting full, and that has nothing to do with the device storage issue for which the lawsuit was filed.

So, this lawsuit may simply be a way for lawyers to make money, but I’m glad that it’s bringing this issue out in the open. I think the courts must decide whether it is legal to advertise a device using one system of calculating its storage, then, when you use the device, present a different system. It allows hardware manufactures – and not just Apple – to essentially lie about the amount of storage you get on your hardware. This doesn’t change the amount of storage your device has, but these numbers should be consistent.

9 thoughts on “Lawsuit Targets iOS Device Storage Capacity Deception

  1. I’m in agreement up to the moment when you say “That’s just lying.” “Stupid”, I would go for. But for Apple to be part of this industry-wide capacity calculation inconsistency is a problem other than lying, in my book. If Apple changed its capacity reporting inside iTunes and elsewhere, to match the system on the box, it wouldn’t help consumers one bit with space for apps, music, and other data. It would help with confusion, but not with the critical issue of capacity. I make a distinction between deception and mathematical conversion.

    The stupidity of inconsistent units isn’t limited to computer storage. Some cars list their engine capacities in liters, some in cubic inches. Some distances are shown in kilometers, some in miles (remember the failed Mars probe?). Buying beverages exposes us to a grab bag of measurement systems. These mixed measurement systems are aggravating, but not the same as lying.

    • I call it lying because they did change the way they calculate disk space on desktops. Rather than have two different systems, they prefer obfuscation.

      On this side of the pond – in Europe – engine size is always cubic centimeters or liters. Distances are either miles or kilometers; the former in the UK, the latter in the rest of Europe. The only equivalent I can think of is miles per gallon. In the UK, you get mpg quoted for a car, but you buy gas in liters. In France, where I lived before, they quote the number of liters of gas it takes to go 100 km, which has always confused me.

      The US could resolve a lot of these issue by going metric, but that’s another discussion…

  2. This is a very stupid lawsuit. It’s an insult when one says a technical user can’t understand it! It’s the difference between a 1024 and 1000. What is so freaking hard about that?!? And now Europeans think this is a problem? Seriously? The same people who criticize non-metric units? That’s rich.

    The biggest problem with iOS 8 was everyone was trying to do over the air updates (even though tethered is MUCH quicker and requires less space). In order to do that, the OS has to have enough space for the installer and the update both as source and as destination, basically.

    16GB is increasingly not enough space. But Apple never lied about any of this, that’s just insane.

    • What I find is that the tech press – and people who comment on blogs – forget what it’s like to be an “average user.” Most users of iPhones have no clue that there’s a difference between 1000 and 1024, and Apple’s explanation on their website is not easy to understand. I don’t know what you mean about Europeans thinking this is a problem; the lawsuit is in California.

  3. The difference between a GB and a GiB does NOT explain the difference between the marketed capacity of an iPhone and the capacity listed in Settings:General:About.

    16GB = 14.9GiB
    64GB = 59.6GiB

    Yet when you open Settings:General:About the 16GB device claims a capacity of 12.7GB and the 64GB device claims a capacity of 56.0GB (both running iOS 8.1.2)

    So let’s be kind and say that capacity as listed by the device is the capacity after the OS has been accounted for.

    But that’s still not right because the OS appears to be consuming 2.2GB on the 16GB device, but a whopping 3.6GB on the 64GB device.

    Whatever your opinion on the lawsuit Apple certainly has some explaining to do.

  4. Kirk, the issue I find most irritating in this is that Apple is far from the most egregious offender in this area.

    Where are the lawsuits against Android and Windows mobile devices losing up to 50% of their storage to the OS and pre-installed apps? (and no, not all of these other devices can expand their storage with the additional purchase of an SD card)

    As usual the lawyers are after their piece of flesh of Apple whose devices have the most free space of all mobile devices for a given storage size.

    • I agree. Apparently the Microsoft Surface has less than 50% of the advertised space. But I think this issue needs to be dealt with across the board. Obviously, attacking Apple means there’s a big target; how would you find enough people for a class action suit regarding the Surface?

  5. I just purchased an ipad air 2, 64 GB. I added no additional apps; photos; or music. Out of the box it had 49.3 available storage. I deleted garage band and any other deletable apps. Took me up to 49.6. Called Apple support (they sounded shocked..like they had never heard of this before), and they did a diagnostics test. After more deletes I am at 52.0 GB!! I have nothing else added. I assumed I got a lemon, but this sounds like a common problem.

  6. I think when your 16GB Ipad Mini has only 12.7GB of available memory, there is something well wrong. I happen to hate Apple, after discovering they won’t replace the glass on my Ipad but it will cost me $210 to replace it. no don’t think so. This will be the last Apple product I ever buy. I would join this class action, if there is such a thing, 1/4 of my Ipad mini’s memory is gone and it locks up more since the last iOS upgrade.

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