There’s no such thing as an iPhone with a microSD card. So if you’re running out of storage on your phone, the easiest way to free up some space is to delete photos, music, or videos or uninstall some apps you don’t use very often.
Now Apple is making the latter option a bit more appealing, because uninstalling an app doesn’t necessarily mean losing all of the data and settings associated with that app. There’s a new “offload unused apps” option in iOS 11 that lets your device automatically remove infrequently used apps when you’re low on space, but backup your data so that if and when you download the app from the cloud in the future, you won’t lose anything.
This feature is included in the iOS 11 developer beta and should be available to everyone with a compatible device when iOS 11 rolls out to the public this fall.
But it’s not entirely a new idea. A key selling point for the Nextbit Robin smartphone was a custom version of Android with a “smart storage” feature that worked nearly the same way, automatically removing apps you don’t use frequently to free up space, but leaving shortcuts for those apps on your phone’s launcher. When you want to use an app, you just have to wait a second for it to download and then all of your data and settings are automatically restored.
The Nextbit Robin launched in early 2016 for $399. Plan for a model that would be compatible with Sprint and Verizon were scrapped a month later. And by the start of this year, Nextbit was essentially out of business, with PC gaming company Razer acquiring the company.
You can still pick up a Robin smartphone. These days it sells for around $150 or less. It recently got an Android 7.1.1 update, and there are custom ROMs available for the phone. But it doesn’t seem like the cloud storage feature was enough of a selling point to really make the phone a huge success.
Of course, Apple isn’t pitching its new app offloading option as a key feature of its iPhone and iPad operating system. It’s not enabled by default, and Apple didn’t even mention it during the WWDC keynote where the company unveiled iOS 11. But it is interesting to see Apple adopt the feature.
This would hardly be the first time Apple launched a product or service that’s reminiscent of existing products from different companies.