Android phones like the Pixel 6 Pro and the Galaxy S22 Ultra have 16 GB of RAM or more. In contrast, the iPhone 13 Pro has 6 GB of RAM and the non-Pro versions manage on just 4 GB. Yet iOS devices still manage to perform as well as their Android counterparts. How is that even possible?
RAM stands for random-access memory. There are several types of RAM, but the kind used in smartphones, SDRAM, is volatile. Unlike your smartphone’s flash memory, where information is stored for long periods of time, RAM can only store information while the device is on. It is essentially the working memory of your Android or iOS smartphone and contains information that your phone is actively using. The more RAM your smartphone has, the more data it can store in working memory.
Why does Android need more RAM than iOS?
There is no definitive reason for the difference in GBs between Android and iOS, but there are several factors that come into play. First, there are only a few new iPhones and iPads released each year that all run on similar hardware. Because iOS apps run on identical chipsets, they can be built specifically for those chipsets using programming languages (notably Swift and Objective-C). Codes written for iOS apps are compiled directly into instructions that Apple’s CPUs understand immediately.
The Pixel 6 Pro has a RAM of 16 GB (Image: Google)
On the other hand, Android powers an almost unlimited number of different devices, with chipsets built by Qualcomm, Samsung and MediaTek, among others. All those different chipsets, of course, need to be able to run the same apps. Since it would be impossible to write out a separate programming language for each chipset, Android apps are written in programming languages (Kotlin and Java) that are translated into some kind of common language. This common language is called “the bytecode.
The bytecode is then converted into the language that belongs to a specific chipset. Thus, a bytecode must be translated before an Android smartphone can execute the instructions. That process takes extra energy than with an iOS device that understands the common code immediately. That means the same app on an Android device usually requires more RAM than on an iOS copy.
Deleting redundant data
Each operating system manages RAM differently. Android uses a memory management method called garbage collection. This process deletes data that is no longer used and restarts it, freeing up RAM memory. iOS, on the other hand, uses automatic reference counting (ARC). This method gives data a certain value based on the number of other objects referenced. If the value drops to zero, the smartphone immediately deletes this data.
Sierra Blue (Image: Mark Hofman / WANT)
Because garbage collection from Android removes unused storage, the method can cause a buildup of useless RAM. ARC, on the other hand, does not have this problem: unnecessary objects are noticed faster and removed immediately. Android is also less restrictive about apps running processes in the background than iOS. This means that apps you don’t actively use hang around more easily on Android phones than on iPhones. Android’s flexibility is one of the platform’s strengths, but that also means RAM can be used less efficiently.
Is extra RAM on an Android smartphone really that bad?
Ultimately, Android and iOS have different RAM needs because both operating systems work very differently. Although Android requires more RAM, the extra memory is not a bad thing a priori. After all, manufacturers still manage to bring models to market that are just as good as comparable iPhones.