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How to Free Up Storage on Your iPhone or iPad

We all need to go on a data diet from time to time.

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How often have you encountered that dreaded message on your iOS device letting you know you're running out of storage space? Unless you've recently upgraded your iPhone or iPad, this is likely a common occurrence. But don't worry—you're not alone. Since the release of iOS 8, users of 8 GB and 16 GB iOS devices have struggled with this problem, especially when it comes to updating to newer versions of iOS.

In fact, Apple made a point of using recent iOS 8 updates to try and lower the amount of free space needed to update. The only problem is that you need free space to run that update—sort of a catch-22.

Fortunately, there are some workarounds, and we've put together a guide to help you free up space. Here's how to liberate your iOS device from the shackles of insufficient storage.


Check Your Storage Usage

iTunes iOS Storage Bar
Storage Usage
The Usage screen will show you which apps are eating up your storage. View Larger

First, we need to know what we're working with. Plug your iOS device into your computer and load up iTunes. Open up on your device's profile in iTunes and check out the storage meter along the bottom of the window. It will break up your storage into Audio (music), Photos, Apps, Books, Documents & Data, and "Other." The most likely culprits are Photos, Documents & Data, and Other. If you use your phone as an iPod, music will also be a major hog.

But before we get into that, we need to figure out, more precisely, where all your data is being stored. Load up the Settings app on your device, then navigate to General > Usage > Manage Storage (under "Storage," not iCloud). A list of all the apps on your device will appear in order of the amount of space being used by each item. The most likely culprits here are Messages, Photos & Camera, Mail, and possibly Voice Memos, Podcasts, or a music app, depending on your habits.

Below, is a more precise guide for streamlining content for each of the above storage hogs.

Photos and Media

For most iOS users, photos constitute one of the biggest chunks of storage date. The easiest solution is to upload them to your computer or back them up to a cloud storage service. Once that is done, you can delete all the unnecessary photos from your device. Some programs like iPhoto will even prompt you to delete photos after importing them.

All media purchased through iTunes or Podcasts can be streamed. Tweet It

As for other media, your best bet is to stream content instead of housing it permanently on your device. You may want some movies or books downloaded for subway rides or plane trips, but otherwise there is no need to keep all of your personal media on the device. Let it live in the cloud!

All podcasts or media purchased through iTunes can be streamed simply by deleting it from the iBooks, Podcasts, and Videos apps. Once you do, there will be a little cloud symbol indicating it's available for streaming.

Music

If you're a music lover, you probably have hundreds—if not thousands—of songs on your iOS device. But if you bought your music through iTunes, the same steps above apply.

All you need to do is swipe left to reveal a delete button next to each song. Like videos and books, it won't disappear. Instead, the song will have a cloud symbol next to it indicating that it is stored on iCloud and available for streaming.

Music in iCloud
iTunes music that is available for streaming will have a cloud symbol next to it.

If your music was not purchased through iTunes, you have a few different options. You can subscribe to iTunes Match, which will store all of your music on iCloud; you can use a free service like Google Play Music to store and stream music to your device; or you can subscribe to a streaming music service like Spotify or Beats Music.

Apps and Documents & Data

This section is where your device's storage usage list comes in handy. Check to see which apps are taking up the most space. They can range from the obvious (Messages) to the surprising (Google Maps, in my case).

For system apps like Messages, Mail, and Voice Memos, go into those apps and delete messages, text threads, and memos that you no longer need. These can take up a lot of space, especially due to large attachments. You can also schedule messages to delete after a certain period of time. Go to Settings > Messages > Message History. From there, you can select whether to keep your messages for 30 days, a year, or forever.

For third party apps that are taking up a lot of space, click on them individually. If the Documents & Data for the app are much larger than the app size, you should delete unnecessary data inside that app. If that isn't possible (as is the case with Google Maps), you will need to delete and re-download the app.

And of course, if there are large apps that you no longer use, just delete them. You and I both know that you stopped playing Angry Birds years ago. Just let it go.

The Dreaded "Other"

The Other
The mysterious "Other."

This storage section has puzzled many a tech writer and developer. But iMore writes that Other consists of things like cached iTunes content (streamed movies, for example), Mail data, and Safari website data.

You can try to delete some of this data, but unfortunately it is not always possible. In fact, there doesn't seem to be a way to delete cached iTunes content.

The only way to effectively delete "Other" data is to back up and restore your device with iTunes. This process will retain all of your apps in the cloud while deleting any extra junk files that may exist. You will lose some data like game save files, but it's the only way to reclaim lost storage.


The above methods will only help so much, but unless you upgrade to an iOS device with greater storage capacity, they're pretty much all you've get. You can look into buying an external storage device, but as of this writing they are all third-party, meaning you will be severely limited in terms of what kinds of data you can back up. Frustrating, I know.

The most recent updates for iOS 8 were a step in the right direction, but Apple may have to have to take bigger steps to streamline storage space on iPhones and iPads.

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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