Why my new iPad's storage doesn't add up

Is your unit defective? Or is this some kind of Apple scam? Turns out it's neither. Find out why your available gigabytes appear to be less than what you thought you paid for.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
2 min read
Hey, where are my missing gigabytes? They're there--sort of.
Hey, where are my missing gigabytes? They're there, sort of. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

I'm no math genius, but I know when I'm being shorted.

For example, when I unwrapped my new iPad and checked the settings, it showed a total storage capacity of 28GB -- not the 32GB I paid for.

Indeed, it says 32GB right on the box. So what happened to that extra 4GB of space? Was my iPad defective? Was Apple trying to pull something?

It's not a defect or a scam. Instead, this storage shortfall is the result of a calculation oddity that dates back to the early days of hard drives.

In other words, it's all about math. Really, really confusing math. Something about binary versus decimal, bits versus bytes, and how storage makers define a gigabyte versus how many actual bytes are available.

If you want the gory technical details, check out "When a Byte is not a Byte."

The upshot is that computer storage has long been rounded to even and/or familiar numbers. Think about it: would you rather buy a 466GB hard drive or a 500GB hard drive? Drive manufacturers can advertise the latter even though Windows reports only about 466GB of available space. That's because you're actually getting around 500,000,000,000 bytes of storage, which works out to less when converted to gigabytes, but sounds a lot less sexy.

The new iPad is no exception to the rule. If you check your previous-generation iPad, your current iPhone or iPod Touch, your laptop hard drive, or anything else with multi-gigabytes of storage, you'll find the same to be true.

And if I understand the math correctly, you're getting all the storage you paid for. It's just not being reported by the operating system in exactly the right fashion. Or something. I hate math.