SD cards were first introduced in 1999 as a joint collaboration between SanDisk, Panasonic, and Toshiba as an improvement over MultiMediaCards (MMCs) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SD_card. They offered higher capacities and speed compared to previous formats. SD cards started appearing in phones in the early 2000s, allowing people to store photos, videos, music, and files on removable storage rather than just the internal phone memory. For many years, most phones had SD card slots and it was a standard feature that people looked for.
However, over the past several years, more and more phone manufacturers have been removing SD card slots from their devices. Some of the most popular brands like Samsung, Google, and Apple no longer include SD slots on their flagship phones. This trend toward excluding external storage has been controversial, as many customers still value the flexibility and affordability offered by SD cards. This article will explore the various reasons why phone makers are moving away from external storage options.
The rise of cloud storage services like iCloud and Google Photos has reduced the need for expandable storage on phones. According to 50 Booming Cloud Adoption Statistics (2024), the cloud storage market is growing rapidly, with 92.59% of workers now using cloud services to store data. With reliable cloud backups, most users don’t need to store large amounts of data locally on their phones.
Additionally, phones now come with much larger built-in storage capacities than in the past. Per 101 Shocking Cloud Computing Statistics (UPDATED 2024), the average phone storage size has increased substantially over the years. Between cloud services and larger local storage, consumers have less need for external SD card storage.
Removing the SD card slot is one way companies like Samsung have improved water resistance in their phones. SD cards rely on a mechanical door or slot which creates an opening in the phone’s body. This opening is a potential entry point for water, especially with the use of mechanical parts which can fail over time. Even a properly sealed SD slot adds complexity to achieving an IP68 water resistance rating.
As companies have focused more on waterproofing their phones for accidental drops in pools or toilets, the liability of including an SD slot has grown. For example, the Galaxy S7 included an SD slot but had an IP68 rating for submersion up to 1.5 meters for 30 minutes. When Samsung released the Galaxy S21 without an SD slot, its water resistance improved to IP68 submersion up to 1.5 meters indefinitely (source). Removing the hardware complexity of the SD slot was key to improving the reliability of water resistance.
Removing SD card slots allows manufacturers like Samsung and Apple to reduce costs associated with phone production. According to a Counterpoint Research analysis, the bill of materials (BoM) cost for producing a high-end Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is $469. For the iPhone 12, the estimated BoM cost is $373 according to PhoneArena. SD cards add expense by requiring an additional slot and connector on the phone’s logic board.
By removing SD card slots, manufacturers can reduce BoM costs and also lower the retail pricing on entry-level models. For example, the baseline storage on recent iPhone models has increased to 128GB, reducing the need for SD card expansion. The savings from a simplified design is passed down to consumers in the form of more affordable devices. Thus, the lack of SD card support allows phone makers to reach lower price points and expand their customer base.
Streamlined User Experience
Removing the SD card simplifies the smartphone experience for some users. Managing both internal and external storage can be confusing, especially for less tech-savvy individuals. For example, understanding where photos are being saved, moving files between internal and external storage, and dealing with insufficient space errors associated with SD cards requires extra effort that some users prefer to avoid.
By relying solely on internal storage, the user experience is streamlined. There is no need to move files back and forth or determine if an app or media is stored internally or externally. While SD cards allow flexibility to expand storage as needed, removing this option ensures a more straightforward, seamless experience for those overwhelmed by storage management across multiple locations. The tradeoff is simplicity over customization and control.
External SD cards are often slower than internal storage due to differences in technology. SD cards typically use older, less advanced NAND flash memory and controllers. This can result in slower read/write speeds compared to the built-in storage that comes with a smartphone.
By eliminating external SD card slots, manufacturers can design their phones to take full advantage of the fastest internal storage options available. For example, UFS 3.0 and 3.1 storage offers incredible speeds when paired with the latest flagship mobile processors.
Direct internal storage access also improves speed. Apps and the operating system can read and write data faster without going through an intermediate SD card interface. Downloads, installs, multitasking, gaming, and more all benefit from swift access to internal storage.
One theory as to why smartphone manufacturers are removing expandable storage is planned obsolescence. Planned obsolescence is the deliberate creation of products with limited useful life so consumers will have to replace them (Source). With no SD card slot, consumers are forced to upgrade to a new phone if they need more storage space. This inability to expand storage encourages more frequent phone upgrades, increasing sales for manufacturers.
Some consumer advocates view the removal of expandable storage as an anti-consumer move, as it limits options and forces upgrades (Source). However, manufacturers claim technological advancements and streamlining the user experience are the reasons behind this design decision.
One reason phone manufacturers are removing SD card slots is due to security concerns. SD cards are prone to malware attacks and can compromise the security of a device. Malicious code can be hidden on SD cards and triggered when they are inserted into phones.
By removing external SD card slots, manufacturers are reducing the potential attack surface that malware can exploit. With no physical access via a removable card, it becomes much harder for malware to infect the phone’s storage. This change is viewed by manufacturers as an improvement to the phone’s security posture.
However, some argue this is an overly restrictive approach. Responsible security practices like scanning new SD cards before use could mitigate the risk, and removable storage still has its benefits.
Ultimately, the removal of SD slots represents phone makers prioritizing enhanced device security over retaining expandable storage. But not all users agree with the trade-off, fueling the ongoing debate over external storage in phones.
Many consumers have expressed disappointment over the removal of SD card slots in phones. In an online poll conducted on the OnePlus community forums, over 80% of respondents said they wanted SD card slots in phones (source). On Reddit, users overwhelmingly supported keeping SD slots, with one user saying “I have an R6 and never tested my SD slot out of fear! Commenting to follow the results here as I’m interested in the poll” (source).
On tech forums, many users have voiced frustration over not being able to expand storage. One user said “I don’t want to pay $100 more just to get the 256GB version, I’d rather buy the 64GB and use a cheap SD card.” Others discussed workarounds like external USB drives, but noted it was inconvenient compared to just having an SD slot. Overall, polls and forum comments indicate many customers still prefer having SD card expandable storage.
In summary, there are several key factors driving the trend of phones removing SD card slots. The rise of cloud storage has reduced the need for expandable local storage. Waterproofing and cost savings are enabled by removing ports like the SD card slot. A streamlined user experience is easier to achieve without external memory cards. Onboard storage performance is faster than SD cards in many cases. Planned obsolescence pushes users to upgrade phones when storage fills up. And integrated storage is more secure than external SD cards.
The future outlook for expandable storage on phones is mixed. On the one hand, cloud storage may continue to reduce the need for SD cards. Manufacturers seem intent on prioritizing slimmer, more waterproof designs over expandable storage. But on the other hand, a subset of power users still demand SD card slots for maximum flexibility and affordability. There may be room for a niche “pro user” phone model with an SD card slot. But for mainstream flagships, the years of built-in expandable storage appear to be winding down.