Apple's tablet devices -- available in Mini, iPad2 and iPad with Retina Display models as of December 2012 -- are designed to make portable many of the functions customarily associated with personal computers. The iPad accomplishes this task by simplifying many personal computer features. Storage, for example, is in the form of flash memory rather than a traditional hard disk, which is a design decision that reduces the storage capacity of the devices but also has some advantages for processing and battery life.
Flash memory is a type of erasable, programmable, read-only memory that allows users to read, erase and edit data from storage chips. You're probably familiar with flash technology -- which has nothing to do with Adobe's Flash software -- from flash drives and memory cards for devices like digital cameras. The iPad includes several flash memory chips soldered to the board instead of a solid-state drive or a traditional hard drive with a spinning platter. The device stores all user and system data on these chips.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Unlike other forms of memory that read data byte by byte, the type of flash memory included in an iPad is able to manipulate data in groups of bytes to speed up processing. This ability is what makes flash memory a popular choice on devices like flash drives where data is frequently updated or changed. Flash storage also saves energy -- and therefore battery life -- over traditional hard-drive storage that requires a moving arm. Despite a general trend toward increasing capacity and falling prices, storage using flash memory remains more expensive than hard-drive alternatives.
IPad storage capacity depends on the model you choose, but it is generally much smaller than that found in Apple's computer line. The iPad Mini and iPad with Retina Display lines come in 16-, 32- and 64-gigabyte models. The iPad2 comes only in a 16GB version. Given the compact design of the iPad, making alterations to the original hardware to expand storage capacity is practically impossible and would void your Apple support and warranty plan.
Options for Extra Storage
For users who enjoy the portable aspect of an iPad but need some extra storage capacity, several external storage options exist. IPads come configured for iCloud, Apple's free online storage system. Every iPad owner automatically receives a free account with 5GB of space and can purchase additional room on the account. For a hardware solution, iPads can transfer data to an external hard drive, either through the USB connection or wirelessly through a Wi-Fi connection or Bluetooth.
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