What could Apple do with 2GB of RAM in the iPhone?

iOS has always been incredibly efficient when it comes to its use of random access memory (RAM). It's what makes cross-platform spec comparisons so much more than just a numbers game. Apple gets to write their own native code directly to their own hardware. There's also no garbage collection to account for, no third-party skins to prop up, and no interpreters running between the apps and the metal. It lets Apple get away with 1GB of RAM in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. But it also makes me wonder — what could they do with 2GB?

Apple has always been conservative when it's come to RAM. Part of it might be cost at scale or availability at scale, but part of it might also be balancing resources and power demands, not to mention fitting the chips onto the dies and into the super-thin casing while keeping everything within thermal tolerance levels.

In 2007, the original iPhone shipped with 128MB of RAM. It supported multiple browser tabs and first-party multitasking, but didn't have to juggle any App Store apps. In 2009, the iPhone 3GS doubled the RAM to 256MB. It had App Store apps but didn't allow them to run any background processes. In 2010, the iPhone 4 doubled RAM again to 512MB. It allowed for limited background processes like streaming audio, location, and VoIP. In 2012, the iPhone 5 doubled RAM yet again to 1GB. By then background processes had begun to open up as well. And... then it stopped. 2014 and the iPhone 6 line came and went with nary a RAM doubling in sight.

Not so the iPad. Originally matching the iPhone 3GS with 256MB of RAM in 2010, it moved to 512MB in 2011 and, like the iPhone 5, 1GB in 2012. In 2014, however, the iPad Air 2 didn't stop. It doubled once again to 2GB of RAM.

I've joked previously that the iPhone 6 Plus is as much tiny iPad as it is big iPhone, but it's really not a joke. It doesn't have the same custom, triple-core central processing unit (CPU) or octo-core graphics processing unit (GPU) — the silicon that puts the X in the Apple A8X — as the iPad Air 2, but it does have the same 64-bit architecture and almost as many pixels to push around — 2,742,336 internally (down-sampled to 2,073,600 on the display) compared to 3,145,728 for the iPads.

2GB of RAM allows the iPad Air 2 to keep multiple browser tabs open with ease and multiple apps in memory with aplomb. Yet iOS does a lot to conceal the difference. Everything from page cache to background refresh to the new extensibility system makes apps feel like they were awake even when they weren't, and brings enough functionality to you that you don't need to go jumping around as much to find it.

The iPhone 6 Plus is also so fast that, as long as they properly preserve state, when apps do relaunch it's fairly quick. Likewise, as long as the network connection is strong, the browser renders so quickly more tabs reload in the blink of an eye. Problems arise when apps don't properly preserve state — looking at you, Instagram! — or network connections aren't consistently strong — insert carrier gag of your choice.

So, yes, having 2GB of RAM on the iPhone would be nice for those reasons alone. But what about for other reasons? Each previous increase in RAM has come not just with an increase in pixel count but with an increase in app functionality. In the span of 7 years we've gone from no third-party multitasking to universal, just-in time multitasking. What more could there be?

There are rumors of multi-window apps and drag-and-drop data in iOS' future, and while intriguing, it's also just a starting point. As phones become primary computing devices, they have not only the potential but the need to do so much more, and in ways that only minimally involve the numbers on the specs.

The iPhone already has two processor cores, four graphics cores, and a coprocessor. It'll almost certainly have 2GB of RAM someday and eventually more.

As hardware becomes more powerful, software has to advance to take full advantage of it. Not in a traditional desktop way, but in a way that once again makes that power more accessible to more people.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

59 Comments
  • I'm due for an upgrade in September. Can't wait for the 6s plus (if that'll be its name) with 2GB of RAM, multi-window apps, nothing else new in iOS 9 and squashed bugs :)
  • "Just add the new features I want, but don't touch anything else, because the rest needs fixing, but also do add this!" :) Sent from the iMore App
  • "Just add the new features I want, but don't touch anything else, because the rest needs fixing, but also do add this!" :) Sent from the iMore App
  • that's exactly why I had a smiley at the end of my sentence.. :) but was serious up until the hardware requests..
  • 2Gb of ram in next gen iPhone will accelerate the obsolescence of all current iPhones so it does sound like the logical evolution of the iPhone.
  • That's what makes the Internet so funny: when Apple doesn't increase specs, they're failing to innovate, doomed, or being cheap. When they do, they're trying to obsolete older devices, or otherwise being jerks. Neither strike me as reasoned positions. Sent from the iMore App
  • Nice B*slap Rene.... That observation is so right on.
    With all of the poor website coding out there, that chokes even MBP laptops at times, seems 2gb or more is needed to make up for it.
  • Exactly. Regardless of what Apple does to the iPhone two things will be true: 1) haters will hate and 2) Apple will sell an insane amount of phones. I think number two outweighs number one significantly. Sent from the iMore App
  • NICE!!!! Sent from the iMore App
  • And when they, moron Android fanboys say that Apple is copying Android.
  • Is there something wrong with that?
  • I’m not 100% sure if this is the reason for Safari tab reloads but if it’s now solved then great.
    Apple will never give you more than the absolute minimum whilst making you feel you have enough, probably part of the reason they have so much money.
  • They gave you two processor cores, and four graphic cores (eight in the iPad air 2), just because. Cost doesn't seem to be the driving factor. That's part of what prompted my line of thought. Sent from the iMore App
  • I think rolled up cost is the driving factor. That’s why their eco system and planned obsolescence is what it is.
    Conventional wsidom or to put another way Internet banter would suggest that a lack of RAM is what causes Safari page reloads, (I can’t prove it of course), why would they allow it to continue? Where is the famous usability?
  • It's likely multifaceted, including availability. Doubling something, when you ship tens of millions of that something, requires tens of millions of additional somethings. Sent from the iMore App
  • Safari tab reloads drive me nuts too, but it is not just cost, but *opportunity cost*. The extra $20 aside, since extra RAM would be slightly larger, would you accept 3mm thicker and/or an hour of battery life to make room for the extra memory? Every choice they make has implications for other choices. I don't agree with all of Apple's - decisions - I would be happier with a thicker phone with more memory or battery - but they did face hard questions in their design, and I bet "screw the consumer" was not high on the priority list. Edit: I presume the reason the iPad Air 2 has extra RAM is they did not have to make that choice - the extra width x height allowed them to cram in the memory without having to increase thickness or decrease battery life past whatever threshold Cupertino demands.
  • I'd take thicker to get more RAM _and_ more battery life. (6+ battery is great, but I would have preferred the size of a 6 if it had comparable battery life to the 6+)
  • Reply to your edit- they why hasn't the iPad always had double ram of that year's iphone? It's always had the extra space.
  • Fair question - but you have me confused with somebody with knowledge - I'm just a commenter spouting off on the Internet :) As for my hair-brained speculation, it may be that the chips were not available in high quantity/attractive price in past years, or it may be that Apple did not think the extra memory would have a significant enough user impact in past years, and so wanted to eke out the extra profit margin, but now with ios8 they seeba need. Or it could be they love iPad users. Or it could be they hate iPhone users.
  • Valid point, Apple's always been stingy with memory. Also, they didn't even put a f'n camera in the first iPad, so why bother with extra RAM?
  • Don't mean to sound like a fanboy, but nVidia put four processing cores and 192 graphic cores in their ($299, I might add) Shield Tablet. Definitely not cost, and: 1) it's APPLE, they'd make the money back immediately
    2) My $349 OnePlus One has 3GB of RAM, and OnePlus still makes a (single digit) profit.
  • If only Apple built top spec machines :-/
  • I agree, the iPhone runs great with the specs it has but it would be even better if they had 3-4GB RAM.
  • Remember there's an energy penalty for having excessive RAM and "free RAM is wasted RAM. "
  • That energy penalty is minuscule, as in you wouldn't even notice it's so small. However, 3-4GB is absolutely overkill for how iOS is coded currently. 2GB, as evidenced by the Air 2, is the sweet spot.
  • Fixed RAM numbers for iPad. Sent from the iMore App
  • Apple needs to go up to 2GB (or more) ASAP, especially to enable powerful 64-bit apps. 1GB is way too low for modern usage patterns & app loads, compared to the rest of the iPhone 6 HW & iOS. I'm really disappointed that my 6 Plus can only support about 16 open browser tabs, and frequently has to reload them, coming from a 2-year-old Blackberry Z10 w/ 2GB that can happily keep over 200 tabs open reliably, along with several other apps running actively (not semi-sleeping) in the background. C'mon, Apple, that's embarrassing and inexcusable, especially for a $1000 computer-phone.
  • I agree.
  • To each his own, but why would anybody ever need 200 tabs open, or even 16 for that matter?
  • Fair question; I figured someone would ask that. I use browser tabs as my reading list, storing things of interest from emails until I can spend some off-hours reading them. 16-30 is not too scary, but I feel that it shouldn't break a $1000 phone or interfere with other apps' resources. 200 tabs was more of an experiment to test the robustness of BB 10 OS and its underlying QNX kernel. In fact, I've gotten up to 340 on the Z10! A medical/industrial-grade OS is pretty hard to kill on a smartphone. And the Z10 has hardware comparable to an SGS3 from 2012. Try 16 tabs on that on ICS or even JB 4.1.x. Cold molasses!
  • Why not use Safari Reading list as your reading list?
  • Thanks! Yeah, I should look into how to manage that effectively. I have worried that I might store too much "stuff", so haven't really used it.
  • I regularly have 20 open on my iPad 3, I do research for school and stuff. I have 33 open now (including this one) because I'm reasearching web development. I think Apple put a limit so that you can't open more than 35 tabs, at least on my iPad 3 with 1GB of RAM. That said, I can hardly leave a tab for a minute without it reloading, which REALLY slows down my productivity.
  • 16!? I would love to get even 5 not reloading all the time. It's probably the difference in my app usage. My guess is that Facebook is a RAM hog.
  • Less app reloading, and more enhanced multi tasking would be nice and welcome. Sent from the iMore App
  • With multiple web pages open on safari on 6 Plus it's apparent a 2 GB upgrade is needed.
  • More RAM will help with apps to stop crashing when you have multiple apps running. I'm sure that will be the case when they release the iPhone 6S Plus or whatever the next iPhone will be called.
  • My biggest issue with the 6 is that it doesn't have 2GB, is it that much of an issue today? For most people no, for me yes, it hurts productivity. But my biggest complaint about it is that it will really hurt the phone two, three years down the road when apps are getting more complex and bigger, websites require more memory etc. For the 6, I think Apple sold their customers short.
  • "iOS has always been incredibly efficient when it comes to its use of random access memory (RAM)." Yeah, no, but you may not appreciate quite how strange that (along with that headline) comes across to one whose first single-user computer had a few K 30(?)-bit words of rotating drum memory, whose first job in the '60s was at a research facility that had a big IBM machine with a meg of add-on core memory bought at a bargain basement price that would have taxed the resources of the richest person in the world to have bought a gigabyte of. And who spent most of the '70s doing assembly language on machines where my crowning achievement was losslessly compressing color halftones by 50% (which was pretty good, cause the machine could only hold one scan line at a time and still run at speed) which allowed Time magazine to push their photo deadline back by a day... (of course, that was the same release where an off-by-one errror caused pics with 4n+3 lines came out weird, though 0, 1, or 2 modulo 4 came out fine). But yeah, 2 gigs in an iPhone, or an iPod touch, or an iPad either mini or maxi would really be appreciatable. (And the memory efficiencies in Yosemite are pretty good too, allowing me to run about the same mix of apps in 8 GB as in 16 GB on Lion and Mountain Lion.
  • That'll be a dream come true. I reason I left the iPhone behind is because it left itself behind regarding the RAM. I understand specs don't equate for performance but the lack of RAM in the iPhones is really a downer especially if you watch lots of movies and play games and surf the web and suddenly one of those things reload which is nerve racking. I'm glad the new Air has 2 gigs. It's practically the most powerful device right now. Imagine a 3 gigabyte RAM iPhone, now that'll be a powerful and monstrous phone and with iOS now finally catching up to android, it'll need the more RAM to power the device. But of course Apple needs to sort the iOS 8 bad coding which could be a relation the the limited RAM. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Hey Apple, just bring me the new Maps with Transit and everything else will be the Icing on the cake.
    I do not have any Problems performing any tasks, on my 128GB 6 Plus.
  • I love having the 2GB of RAM on my iPad Air 2! If nothing more than for braggin rights! ;)
  • If you make them with more ram, app developers will write memory hog apps, just like the way software got more bloated when larger hard drives took off. Windows phone uses 1GB of ram, and I would venture to say it uses it more efficiently than apple does. That's not a knock on Apple, either. Microsoft has simply come a long way with Windows 8.1 across all platforms. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Why doesn't Apple offer larger RAM capacity in the iPhones/iPads as a built-to-order option? Or a larger battery? The Steve Jobs era is over, one option is not always right for everyone- color and capacity is not enough choice. I understand Apple recycles last year's model as the "good enough" model alongside their flagship, but for those of us who need and use their phone for more than just a fashion statement, we want hardware choices.
  • 2Gb of ram in next gen iPhone will accelerate the obsolescence of all current iPhones.
  • I hate to keep beating a dead horse, but I'm sure everyone here knows how much I hate Android fanboys and their arrogance/stupidity. One dude on another tech blog, who obviously is an Android fanboy, said something like welcome to 2011 with 2 gigs of RAM iTard users. Now think about that for a second. Let that stupidity sink in. And that's why I hate Android fanboys.
  • I'm an Android fan (different from a fanBOY), and I agree that that probably wasn't the best thing to say, however true it was. While yes, Android had 2GB of RAM in 2011-2012, Android uses more. I fail to see how that's "stupid", though, as it technically is true. Arrogant, yes, rude, yes, but not really stupid. What really makes ME angry is the elitist, condescending additude of Apple fanboys (*coughcoughReneRitchiecoughcough*), like we're peasants and they're kings. IT'S JUST A STUPID SMARTPHONE. I like the customizability, complexity and openness of Android, you like the smoothness, simplicity and user-friendliness of iOS. To each his own. What I like might not be the best for you, and vice versa.
  • You proved my point and you're too damned stupid to realize it. Android is an operating system. Operating systems don't have RAM. Computers and smartphones have RAM. And which smartphone had more than 1 gig in 2011?
  • Instead of ad hominem attacks, try understanding what I said. I used Android in the same way people use the phrase "Apple vs. Android". I was refering to all devices running Android. The first Android device with 2GB of RAM WAS THE LG Optimus LTE2. It launched in Korea in mid May of 2012. (Notice I said 2011-2012.)
  • Don't. You sound like a complete retard. It's like the Windows (OS) vs Mac (computer) argument years ago. Windows fanboys said Windows was better because it's on more computers. Sound familiar, Android is better because it's on more hardware? And when morons like you start with the fanboy diatribe about Android having SD cards and removable batteries and 768 gigs of RAM, I remind them that the Nexus 7, which I own, has none of these things. So if you want to argue technology, do it right.
  • Again, ad hominem attacks aren't an effective debate tactic. Please show where I said Android was better than iOS. Saying that it is better FOR MY USE CASE != better in general. My Android phone does not have an SD card slot or removable battery, and I'm fine with that. Regarding the last two sentences, I could say the same about Apple Fanboys. They say that iOS is so smooth, fast and user friendly, yet my iPad 3 is none of those things. Yet, like your Nexus 7, it's not anywhere close to new technology, hence I don't expect it to be any of those things.
  • General knowledge of the technology industry IS a necessary requirement in a debate, though. Something the typical Android fanboy has NO knowledge in. At least Apple fanboys know the difference between an operating system and a hardware platform. And the Nexus 7 I have is from 2013. Hardly ancient technology in the least.
  • Because Android, which 84% of smartphones use, isn't part of the technology industry? Smartphones are probably the most important part of the technology industry. I already stated I'm not an Android fanboy, if I was I: 1) wouldn't own an iPad
    2) would try to shove Android down your proverbial throat
    3) would think Android is the best for EVERYONE, not just me and other power users like me. And I leave out ONE WORD ("phones"), which isn't that hard to do when typing on a touchscreen, and you hold it over my head for the entire debate? Seems legit... I've pretty much dedicated the last three years of my life and plan on dedicating the rest of my career to the technology field. OF COURSE I know that Android itself doesn't have RAM, it was a TYPO. Geez, let it rest. Not to offend you, but in a debate (which I just took a class on last year), you would try to get as many points across as you can instead of nitpicking tiny things like that. But, let me play your game: no computer in existance has 768GB of RAM, the Nexus line has been without SD cards since late 2012 (IIRC) and point me to one tablet with a removable back, with the exception of the Dell Venue 11 Pro. The Tegra 4 (or is it the Snapdragon S4 Pro, either way) wasn't good two years ago, and it certainly isn't great now. Not as bad as, say, a Snapdragon 400, but it's no 800. And, it's a ~$200 tablet, it's not going to have all the bells and whistles of, say, a Galaxy Tab S 8.4., which is also $400 and is incredibly bloated.
  • Good lord ott1wbw... What the hell do you have up your ass? You're so negative on almost ALL threads on this site. I hate iOS, LOVE my Android devices.. easy to root and super fast. I owned 2 idiotPhones in the past, returned them both, both had issues, I have owned a mac, was told by my IT trainer that it was impossible to crash, again, proved that sucker wrong. I guess you have to be smarter than the piece of hardware you're using. NEVER AGAIN have I bought anything Apple. Though they are shady in their building department (as most technological companies are), I have no hate for company itself. The OS is slow, lacks features I like and with the last two "upgrades", it's terrible. That said I just wanted to point out that maybe you should look back on your comments to others from all the threads you visit and see what kind of ass you are. As someone else said in another article, you're acting like a child. Everyone has their own taste or likes/dislikes from all vendors, even things like food, tv's, cars, etc.. Just because you don't like a feature of something doesn't make it bad. One of your comments about Windows 8 (I use 8.1 and absolutely love it.) Doesn't take a genius to figure out something a 10 year old picked up within 20 minutes. I think you're the one bitching about finding the control panel in Windows 8? Left, bottom corner, right click, click "CONTROL PANEL".. damn was that hard.
  • Here's some ideas: Advanced analytics on-phone for your health data or many other purposes, better voice recognition and intelligence that doesn't need a network connection, more map caching and navigation rerouting (some of that static stuff can go in Flash), visualization of complex business or medical data.
  • Listen when Apple debates doubling RAM they are balancing cost, battery life, and many other factors. It's not just one thing. Moving to 2gb of RAM is such a classic internal S upgrade I'd be shocked if we don't see it in the 6s. Sent from the iMore App
  • I agree however I doubt the 2gig upgrade will do a whole lot in iOS 9 just like the typical slightly upgraded internals (cpu, gpu, possibly placement of other chips/ cables inside the device) we have seen in just about every past "S" device besides a selling point to sell more iPhones. Now when the iPhone 7 hits with IOS 10 (or whatever they decided to call it maybe IOS "X") THEN we will see the 2gigs, possibly more really be a factor in the functioning of the device. Upgrading to 2 gigs for the S model and really really needing it would make the 6 series practically useless but sits nicely for when the 7 hits with IOS 10 and really needs the 2 gigs then the 6s will be able to function just fine. And that I can see as a very viable plan and smart on Apples part. Also the reason the iPad may have the 2gigs is cause people usually upgrade there phones more frequently then they do there tablets.
  • I agree however I doubt the 2gig upgrade will do a whole lot in iOS 9 just like the typical slightly upgraded internals (cpu, gpu, possibly placement of other chips/ cables inside the device) we have seen in just about every past "S" device besides a selling point to sell more iPhones. Now when the iPhone 7 hits with IOS 10 (or whatever they decided to call it maybe IOS "X") THEN we will see the 2gigs, possibly more really be a factor in the functioning of the device. Upgrading to 2 gigs for the S model and really really needing it would make the 6 series practically useless but sits nicely for when the 7 hits with IOS 10 and really needs the 2 gigs then the 6s will be able to function just fine. And that I can see as a very viable plan and smart on Apples part. Also the reason the iPad may have the 2gigs is cause people usually upgrade there phones more frequently then they do there tablets.
  • i would want it i can use it,just to call my mother