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Did you know that iPhones typically have less RAM (Random Access Memory) than their Android counterparts? This is because Apple devices require less RAM to run the same number of apps. But what are the other reasons iPhones have such little RAM?
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iPhones don’t need as much RAM as Android phones due to several reasons, which we’ll explain in detail below:
Unlike iPhones, Android phone manufacturers work with various manufacturers to produce phone parts, such as processors and screens. This means that two Android phones can have completely different configurations.
This makes it almost impossible for Android app developers to create an optimized app for every Android phone. The same app will most likely be incompatible with another Android phone.
To deal with this issue and to promote compatibility across all devices, Android runs all its apps on the Java platform. This allows Java to easily translate all codes for an app, ensuring that it will run properly on any device without having issues with compatibility and optimization.
However, to have the compatibility that Android enjoys, it had to make a compromise, which was an Android phone’s RAM requirement.
Every Android phone, therefore, also needs to run the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) on the side to ensure that the app will run smoothly. JVM translates the app’s code to be usable and compatible with the phone’s processor. Unfortunately, the result is that Android apps require more than double the amount of RAM necessary to run the app’s native code.
Apple has a closed ecosystem of hardware that can use its operating system. They also only release a handful of iPhones every year.
This allows Apple to focus on optimizing its devices and ensures that it won’t have the same compatibility issues as Android. Developers don’t need to worry about compatibility because there’s very little difference in iPhone configuration.
All iPhones run on the same code and use the same operating system (iOS), so the app developers only need to write the native code for iPhones. iPhone apps only need the RAM required to run the native code for the app.
iPhone apps are so optimized that there’s even a separate category for apps you can use on other Apple devices like the iPad. The result is that iPhones can run apps seamlessly and require far less RAM than Android phones.
iPhones have smaller RAM requirements than Android because of their effective RAM management. At any given time, apps running on iPhones fall into one of three categories:
- Active and running: These are apps that are currently in use or haven’t gone through compression and are still using the entire RAM required by its native code.
- Inactive and compressed: These are recently active apps that have undergone compression. They still need RAM space, but much less than active apps. An iPhone can reopen them instantly without reloading the entire native code.
- Inactive and unloaded: These are apps that the iPhone unloaded from the system but are still visible from the App Switcher. The iPhone needs to reload these apps when you switch back to them.
Every iPhone app will go in and out of these statuses, depending on your tasks. iPhones use two RAM management processes that work in the background to make this possible:
These processes ensure that your iPhone will have enough RAM to run any app, regardless of the number of apps you have running in the background.
We’ll explain them in more detail below:
When you open an app on your iPhone, the system instantly checks if your phone has enough RAM to run the app. If it doesn’t, the system will check for apps you’re not using or are running in the background. If the system can compress the app, it will use WKdm (Wilson-Kaplan direct-mapped) to free up more space for the app you just opened.
WKdm is the fastest compression algorithm that computers can use. In a computer with a Pentium Pro processor (which has a maximum clock speed of 233 MHz), WKdm can compress an app by as much as 50% in 0.25 milliseconds. It will take 0.15 milliseconds to decompress it.
The Pentium Pro was released in 1995, so you can only imagine how fast WKdm would work on an iPhone 14 Pro Max with a max clock speed of 3.46GHz on a single core.
If the apps running in the background require 1GB RAM, WKdm will compress them to make more room for the app you’ve just opened. If you need 500 MB of RAM, the apps in the background will go through 50% compression. This process instantly creates new space for your app without closing the ones you left open.
Jetsam is a maritime term that refers to the process of trying to lighten the vessel by throwing away unwanted or unnecessary goods. iPhones also use this mechanism if the WKdm algorithm cannot create enough space for the new app to operate through compression.
This means that an iPhone will instantly reclaim the inactive app’s RAM to create space for the new one.
The caveat to this mechanism is that if the iPhone reclaims the RAM for an app, you must reload it to use it again. This is not ideal, but a reason iPhones use less RAM than Android phones.
Android’s RAM management works quite differently and uses Java and garbage collection to run its apps.
This allows the apps you run in the background to consume memory until the phone runs out of memory to open a new app. The garbage collection mechanism removes and discards all unnecessary operations to free up RAM for another app.
To operate as smoothly as iPhones, they need more RAM.
Java’s garbage collection and iPhone’s WKdm + jetsam are reasons flagship Android phones need 12GB to 16GB RAM, while an iPhone Pro Max can operate perfectly with only 6GB RAM.
Apple puts a lot of effort into ensuring its phones are secure. Every app inside the Apple App Store and all the updates that developers publish need to go through their guidelines, including RAM usage and data accessibility. Although the intention of this process is security, it has also led to iPhone apps being more optimized than Android apps.
When you open an iPhone app, it will operate inside its sandbox with access to the limited data it needs. If the app needs more data outside its sandbox, it needs to ask for user permission before accessing those files. In this way, the iPhone remains secure and won’t have to load too much data before it can operate.
Aside from this, iPhone apps cannot interact with each other unless it’s from the same developer. So iPhone developers need to work on a solution to make their apps work without accessing other files or apps outside its sandbox. By doing this, apps won’t need more RAM than they should by opening other apps in the background.
Android also has a sandbox for its apps, but it doesn’t restrict interaction between them. Aside from this, many of the apps inside the Play Store didn’t go through code inspection. So there’s a possibility that an app opens a dozen more apps in the background to access all the files it needs.
To run an Android app smoothly, it needs to run the native app code and the JVM code and may even open other apps in the background. All of these complex operations require a lot more RAM than iPhones, which only need to run the native code for the app that you’re using.
Apple is uniquely positioned because they’re both a hardware and software company. Besides Google’s Pixel, most Android phones are from hardware-focused companies. They can’t use software optimization to improve their phone’s performance.
For Apple, a combination of software and hardware optimization ensures they can create the best phones without spending as much on hardware. This allows them to keep manufacturing costs down without compromising the user experience for iPhones.
What differentiates Apple from other phone manufacturers is they hardly talk about the specifications. You’d have to search online to find the amount of RAM that iPhones have.
Aside from RAM, Apple doesn’t also bombard its users with all of the iPhone’s specifications and mechanisms, which is in stark contrast with Android phones. When you see a new Android phone release, it’ll have all kinds of numbers that may not even make sense to many people, especially without context to what it does.
In the smartphone industry, a faster clock speed or more RAM doesn’t always equate to a better phone. It will always be based on a combination of hardware that works together to create a seamless experience. This combination of hardware can be very overwhelming to assess, especially when multiple phones in different price ranges have the same specifications.
Take the Poco F4 GT and Samsung S22 Ultra as examples. Both Android phones use the Qualcomm SM8450 Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 (4 nm) with 8GB RAM + 128 GB ROM. They are similar in performance just by looking at the specs, but one is a flagship phone with a high base price. The other is a mid-range phone with a low base price.
Apple knew that playing the “specs game” with other smartphone manufacturers wouldn’t be healthy for their company.
Getting the best specs on the iPhones is easy but costly. That’s why their keynotes talk about the iPhone as if there are no other phones in the market. It’s also structured in a way that everyone will understand:
If you liked the iPhone 13, you’ll want to upgrade to iPhone 14 because it’s 18% faster and the most battery-efficient iPhone ever.
When they do this, it’s easier for people to understand compared to the overwhelming “specs game” that Android phone companies use. It’s also easier for them to justify the prices and upgrades for their iPhone models, which ultimately benefits their profitability as a company.
Focusing on developing a better user experience to maximize profits may be why iPhones have very little RAM. However, keeping it simple for their users has been in Apple’s genes ever since the start of the company.
In the movie Jobs (2013), Steve Jobs discussed building computers that are so simple it would be like plugging an appliance into an outlet. He wanted a device that anyone would understand and be able to use as soon as they took it out of the box.
People who upgrade their phones annually are not upgrading because they want more RAM, faster clock speed, or higher graphics processing power. They’re upgrading because they want a better user experience — something only two companies can do; Apple and Google.
You cannot get more RAM for your iPhone unless you upgrade to a higher model. Unlike Mac computers, the RAM on iPhones is soldered into the motherboard. You can’t remove or replace them to get more memory for your smartphone.
However, as discussed throughout this article, you don’t even need as much RAM for iPhones. There are enough mechanisms to ensure that your iPhone works seamlessly even with less RAM. In fact, it’s even more responsive than Android phones with more RAM built-in.
Also, if your iPhone is starting to operate slower, you can clear its RAM and free up all the usable space. Clearing the RAM for iPhones is a bit different because the apps in your App Switcher may or may not even use RAM or any resource due to jetsam.
Here’s a video from Daniel about Tech walking you through the steps to clear the RAM on different iPhones.
Knowing how to clear your RAM ensures that your iPhone always works faster and smoother. Doing it whenever you’re having issues with your RAM might just save you from buying a new iPhone just to have more memory space.
iPhones have such little RAM for various reasons:
- They have standard operating systems and app optimization
- They have effective RAM management
- They have optimized hardware and software
Apple has refined its operating system to efficiently use smaller RAM without being an issue for most users, allowing them to maximize their profit.