Sometimes a couple of unrelated news items pop up on the same day and just beg to be compared. Such was the case yesterday when two stories about tablet storage hit. The first was the news that Apple is launching at 128GB iPad on February 5th. In all other ways this new tablet is the same 4th generation iPad we already know and some of us love; it just has more storage. That storage of course comes at a price. The base (WiFi) model is $799 while the LTE model goes for $929. 128GB seems like a crazy large amount of storage space for an iPad, but Apple is targeting this one at people who have special needs. In a press release announcing the new model Apple calls out potential markets: "Companies regularly utilizing large amounts of data such as 3D CAD files, X-rays, film edits, music tracks, project blueprints, training videos and service manuals all benefit from having a greater choice of storage options for iPad."
What still gets me is how much Apple (and other tablet manufacturers) charge for storage. The 128GB iPad costs $100 more than the 64GB iPad. So that tells us that 64GB of storage costs $100. But the 16GB iPad costs $499 while the 32GB iPad costs $599, suggesting that 16GB of storage also costs $100. I guess I'm not the only one bothered by this. CNet's Josh Lowensohn put together an interesting post on the actual cost to Apple. Turns out the figure is $0.55/GB, or $35.20 for 64GB of flash RAM. Honestly that makes $100 for 64GB seem reasonable (isn't the rule of thumb that you triple cost of parts to come up with a retail figure?) but it demonstrates how outrageous the 16GB to 32GB jump is. We're paying $100 for an upgrade that costs Apple only $8.80. Now let's hop the fence and talk about Microsoft's Surface Pro, which is due out on February 9th. On the Surface Pro product page there's a footnote that says "System software uses significant storage space; your storage capacity will be less. See surface.com/storage. 1 GB = 1 billion bytes." Well now we know hard numbers and the news isn't good. The 64GB Surface Pro has only 23GB of free space to work with. The 128GB version has 83GB free. Normally with a tablet even 23GB of space is pretty generous, but remember the Surface Pro is a full Windows 8 machine that can run all your normal desktop software. Once you start loading Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite, you're going to hit that 23GB cap really quickly. Microsoft points out that you can add a 64GB microSDXC card to your Surface Pro, and of course the tablet has USB ports for external storage, but those options incur additional expense and/or bulk to your system. The bottom line is that for most users, the 64GB Surface Pro is going to be very limiting. I don't know that there is a solution to this; part of the trade off of having a full Windows 8 installation is that Windows is a big OS. The Windows directory on the system I'm on right now takes up 23GB. The Surface Pro also has a small recovery partition that takes up some room, and then there are the built-in apps. Perhaps it's time for table manufacturers (all of them, not just Microsoft) to advertise their hardware based on usable storage rather than physical storage. None of which changes the fact that hte 64GB Surface Pro is going to feel pretty cramped. Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.