In a world where mobile profits are owned almost entirely by Apple and Samsung (and have been for a long time), it’s notable to see a new entrant in this space. The aforesaid outfits have nearly run even the likes of Sony and HTC out of the sector — and yet, a San Francisco-based startup is making waves with an entirely new Android phone. As you’d expect, Nextbit’s Robin came to be with the help of crowdfunding. The company found over 3,600 backers that collectively pledged north of $1.3 million to bring the “only cloud-first smartphone” to market. Today, those phones are shipping to reviewers, and soon to early supporters.
Robin differentiates itself in a couple of ways. For one, it’s the first phone in over half a decade that doesn’t look exactly like every other phone. More important, however, is its use of cloud storage. The key selling point is that Robin owners won’t ever run out of space. (It doesn’t take too much Googling to find throngs of 16GB iPhone 6s owners furious at how quickly their storage evaporated with the introduction of Live Photos.) There’s little question that phone storage is an issue, and with each passing year, it becomes more of one.
Most phone owners simply roll their current phone build onto whatever new phone they get, rarely taking time to disinfect and delete files, apps and media they no longer use. Years and years of photos and defunct apps add up, and it’s now dangerously easy to fill a brand-new phone with years of digital remnants. We, being Americans, detest the thought of downsizing. We’re pack rats by nature, and we love to hang onto things — even digital things — to satisfy the ever-present “just in case” clause.
Nextbit hits this issue head on, giving each Robin owner access to 100GB of cloud storage. Though the phone only has 32GB internally, it’s designed to shift apps and data back and forth from the cloud on demand. In theory, your phone never runs out of room, as it leans on 100GB of cloud storage when its 32GB of internal storage aren’t enough.
The idea is sound, but quite possibly a generation ahead of its time. The key pillar in a system such as this is ubiquitous, limitless access to high-speed data. The moment you’re in a subway tunnel without service and you can’t access a critical app due to it being stored on a cloud, frustration sets in. The moment that you’re forced to use the final 700MB of your monthly data allotment to re-download your Evernotes, another bout of frustration arrives. If neither access to fast data nor limits on said data applied, Nextbit’s system would be glorious. Unfortunately, we presently live in a world where those are issues, and they’re going to present major hurdles.
There’s actually precedent for this. Google’s Chromebooks boast nearly no internal storage, forcing users to lean continuously on a stable Internet connection to get work done. They have their place, sure, but that key point keeps them from outselling tried-and-true laptops with oodles of onboard space.
One could surmise that a phone startup selling the planet’s first device with 1TB of onboard storage would have just as much success today as Nextbit eventually will with Robin; we simply don’t live in a world where mobile broadband flows like water from an endless well. But it’s a future that’s feasible to imagine. Once we’re there, Robin will likely find its wings.