When you buy an iPhone, you have several options. You can choose from a few different models; you can pick a color; you can select how much storage you want. The Phone 13 starts at 128 GB, and you have three other options, 256 GB, 512 GB, or 1 TB. This amount affects what you can put on the device: apps, photos, videos, music, etc.
But you never see any options for RAM.
If you look at specs for new Android phones however, you’ll see how much RAM the devices have. Take Google’s Pixel phones, for example. If you look at the specs for the phones, you’ll see that "Memory & Storage" is a section in the specs. The Pixel 5 has 8 GB RAM, and the Pixel 4 models only have 6 GB RAM. Might those two extra gigabytes of RAM sway a potential purchaser to opt for a more expensive phone?
RAM, memory, and storage
There are three terms used to describe similar elements of a mobile phone, and they can be confusing. In the common parlance, "memory" refers to the amount of storage a device has: that’s the 128 GB. But for technically-oriented people, memory is RAM, the fast chips that the operating system and apps use to run. Google’s specs are a good example of this: under the heading Memory & Storage, they list RAM and Storage.
We don’t tend to think of RAM on mobile devices in the same way as on computers, perhaps partly because we can’t replace it or add to it. With some Android phones, you can increase storage, by using a micro SD card, but RAM is either soldered to a motherboard or on the SoC (system on a chip) in the device.
How much RAM is in my iPhone?
Apple doesn’t specify how much RAM is in an iPhone, but it’s not hard to find out. There are tools that provide a great deal of data about an iPhone, and you can find databases, such as MacTracker, that list this information for all Apple devices.
The very first iPhone had just 128 MB RAM, and the latest model, the iPhone 13, has either 4 or 6 GB RAM.
- iPhone (original): 128 MB
- iPhone 3G: 128 MB
- iPhone 3GS: 256 MB
- iPhone 4: 512 MB
- iPhone 4s: 512 MB
- iPhone 5: 1 GB
- iPhone 5c: 1 GB
- iPhone 5s: 1 GB
- iPhone 6: 1 GB
- iPhone 6 Plus: 1 GB
- iPhone 6s: 2 GB
- iPhone 6s Plus: 2 GB
- iPhone SE (1st gen.): 2 GB
- iPhone 7: 2 GB
- iPhone 7 Plus: 3 GB
- iPhone 8: 2 GB
- iPhone 8 Plus: 3 GB
- iPhone X: 3 GB
- iPhone XS: 3 GB
- iPhone XS Max: 3 GB
- iPhone XR: 3 GB
- iPhone 11: 4 GB
- iPhone 11 Pro: 4 GB
- iPhone 11 Pro Max: 4 GB
- iPhone SE (2nd gen.): 3 GB
- iPhone 12: 4 GB
- iPhone 12 mini: 4 GB
- iPhone 12 Pro: 6 GB
- iPhone 12 Pro Max: 6 GB
- iPhone 13: 4 GB
- iPhone 13 mini: 4 GB
- iPhone 13 Pro: 6 GB
- iPhone 13 Pro Max: 6 GB
You may notice that, with some recent models – starting with the iPhone 7 Plus – larger or "Pro" iPhones have more RAM. For example, the iPhone 13 comes with 4 GB standard, whereas the Pro models have 6 GB. Yet you may also notice that this is less than the latest Google Pixel phone, which comes with either 6 GB or 8 GB.
If an iPhone has less RAM than an Android phone, does that mean it’s not as good?
iPhones and Android phones work very differently, in part because of the architectures they use, and in part because of their processors. Android is an interpreted platform, using Android Runtime, which translates code created by developers to run on Android devices. iOS is a native platform, and code runs directly, without being translated, making iPhones much more efficient. So iPhones and iPads not only need less RAM, they can also run faster.
In addition, Apple’s highly-optimized chips, which the company has been using since the iPhone 4, ensure that all of the processing is finely tuned for the type of code that runs on these devices. Starting with the iPhone 8, Apple has been using their own GPU, and this, too, is optimized for what iPhones and iPads do.
There is one exception to Apple’s silence about RAM: the latest iPad Pro models are powerful enough to do serious video editing, and some of them come with more RAM to facility this type of work. This is the only iPad model where Apple specifies RAM: if you purchase an iPad Pro with 128, 256, on 512 GB storage, it comes with 8 GB RAM. But if your iPad Pro has 1 or 2 TB storage, then you get 16 GB RAM. You won’t see this on the main product page, bit it is mentioned in the Tech Specs page for these devices.
Why doesn’t Apple specify the clock speed of its iPhone chips?
This is another area where Apple doesn’t go into specs. They don’t mention megahertz because they don’t need to. Apple’s SoC is among the fastest processors available, and what would it matter, anyway, if you did know the clock speed? Every iPhone in a given model (such as the iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, etc.) has the same processor, so you won’t choose one model or the other because of this spec.
The same is true for the new M1 Macs, using SoC chips that were originally developed for the iPhone and iPad. While you do get to choose RAM for these computers, you don’t see anything about processor speed, because it no longer makes a difference.
If you’ve been using computers for long enough, you remember how important specs were in selling computers, and you may have spent hours poring over the specs for different models trying to find what was best for your needs. But Apple’s processors have changed this, and you no longer need to bother. On an iPhone or iPad, what you get is more than sufficient; on a Mac or an iPad, you may want extra RAM if you do heavy work (video editing, for example, or complex audio editing), but for most uses, it just doesn’t matter any more.
How can I learn more?
Each week on the Intego Mac Podcast, Intego’s Mac security experts discuss the latest Apple news, security and privacy stories, and offer practical advice on getting the most out of your Apple devices. Be sure to follow the podcast to make sure you don’t miss any episodes.
You can also subscribe to our e-mail newsletter and keep an eye here on Mac Security Blog for the latest Apple security and privacy news. And don’t forget to follow Intego on your favorite social media channels: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.