Can You Expand iPhone Memory?

Woman looking at cellphone while annoyed

JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Running out of memory on your iPhone is unlikely if you've got a top-of-the-line model that offers up to 256GB of storage, but not everyone has one of those. Since every iPhone is crammed full of music, photos, videos, and apps, owners of models with 16GB, 32GB, or even 64GB of storage may eventually run out of memory.

Many Android devices offer expandable memory so their owners can increase their phones' storage capacity. But those are Android devices; what about iPhones? Can you expand the memory on your iPhone?

The Difference Between RAM and Storage Capacity

In order to truly answer that question, it's important to understand the kind of memory you're talking about. There are two kinds of memory used by mobile devices: storage for your data (Flash storage) and RAM (memory chips) that the device uses to run the operating system and apps.

While this article explains ways to expand your iPhone's storage, there aren't any options for upgrading its RAM. Doing that would require having memory that fits the iPhone, opening the iPhone's case, and removing and resoldering the phone's electronics. Even if you have the skills, that would void the iPhone's warranty and expose it to damage. Obviously, this is risky at best and destructive at worst. Don't do it.

You Can't Expand an iPhone's Internal Storage

It's not possible to upgrade the storage capacity of an iPhone. For other smartphones, increasing their storage capacity usually means the phone supports removable storage like an SD card. With an SD card, you can have some storage built into the phone and then add to it with the card. The iPhone doesn't support this (the iPhone is famous for restricting user upgrades; this may also be related to why its battery isn't user replaceable).

The other way to add more memory inside the iPhone would be to have a skilled technician install it. We're not aware of any company that provides that service. In fact, it's not even something Apple offers. 

So, if you can't upgrade the memory inside the iPhone, what can you do?

Cases That Expand iPhone Memory

Picture of two iPhones with memory storage cases

One simple option for expanding the memory of some iPhone models is to get a case that includes additional storage. 

Mophie, which has a line of very good extended-life battery packs, offers the Space Pack, an iPhone case that both expands battery life and storage space. It offers up to 100% more battery life (according to Mophie), as well as an additional 32GB or 64GB of storage.

Another option for the iPhone 6 and 6S series is the SanDisk iXpand case. You can get 32GB, 64GB, or 128GB of storage with this case, and choose from four colors, but there's no extra battery here.

While adding a case isn't as elegant as expanding memory, it's the next best thing in terms of portability and weight.

iPhone-Compatible Thumb Drives

Picture of two iPhones with expandable thumb drive attachments

If you don't want a case, you could opt for a small, lightweight thumb drive that can be plugged into the Lightning port that's present on the iPhone 5 and newer.

One such device, the iXpand by SanDisk, offers up to 256GB of additional storage. As an added bonus, it also supports USB so you can plug it into a computer to swap files. A similar option, the LEEF iBridge, offers the same storage capacities and USB port.

Since these are protruding attachments, they aren't the most elegant devices, but they do offer flexibility and a lot of storage.

Wireless External Hard Drives For Your iPhone

Picture of three wireless storage devices for iPhones

The third option for adding storage to your iPhone is a Wi-Fi-connected hard drive. Not all external hard drives with Wi-Fi features can be used with your iPhone—look for one that specifically promises iPhone compatibility. When you find one, you can add hundreds of gigabytes, or even terabytes, of storage to your phone.

Before you buy, there are two things to consider:

  1. Portability: Even a small, portable hard drive is bigger than a case. You won't bring your hard drive everywhere, so whatever's on it won't always be available.
  2. Integration with iPhone apps: The data stored on external hard drives is treated as separate from your iPhone's internal memory. As a result, photos stored on your hard drive are accessed through the hard drive's app, not the Photos app.
  • On the plus side, an external hard drive is more versatile because it can also be used with a Mac or PC.