One of the most common ways of saving money when buying a new iPhone is to opt for less storage, but your decision can come back to bite you in a few months when you run out of space.
The best way to maximize your available storage space is to buy the biggest device you can afford. Of course, this is useless advice if you’re already struggling — so here’s what you can do to free up space on your iPhone.
Note: You should probably make a backup of your device before you do anything too major like delete photos or videos. The quickest way of doing this is by connecting your iPhone to your computer and running iTunes.
Delete Photos & Videos
You can free up a lot of space if you’re willing to organize your photos and videos, particularly the latter as they take up a considerable amount of space. The best thing you can do is move media off your device. If you have already set up iCloud Photo Stream to automatically copy your images to your Mac or Windows computer, you probably already have your photos on your computer anyway.
Photo stream stores the last 30 days of photos, with a maximum of 1000 photos in it. Mac users can connect their iPhone, launch Photos, select their device and click Import to ensure all their photos are safely on the computer. For Windows users, the instructions are slightly different depending on your version.
Once you have your images and videos safely stored elsewhere, you can start deleting. One quick way of regaining a lot of space is deleting everything in the Videos album under the Albums tab. You’ll need to head to the Recently Deleted album under Albums to permanently delete media and regain space when you’re done.
Don’t fancy removing all the images from your device? Read on.
iCloud Photo Library & Other Cloud Storage
One of the easiest ways of freeing up space on your Mac is to use iCloud Photo Library, and the same is true for your iOS devices. The feature allows you to keep “optimized” (read: low resolution) versions of your images on your device at all times, while your original full-sized images are stored in the cloud ready to download when you want them.
There’s just one catch — you’ll need to buy some iCloud storage space to use the feature. Once you’ve signed up, head to Settings > Photo & Camera and enable iCloud photo library. There you can choose to optimize your storage by only keeping smaller images on your phone. This feature will be most noticeable to users with lots of photos on their devices.
If you like the idea of iCloud Photo Library but don’t want to pay, another app called IceCream promises to provide virtually identical functionality for free. The app essentially replaces iCloud, storing your images and videos within the IceCream app and sending your original images to the IceCream servers for storage. The main concerns here are privacy and the fact that IceCream could suddenly turn around and demand money from already-dependent users.
It’s one of the main reasons many users prefer to use paid apps and services over free ones. If this sounds like you, cloud services like Dropbox and Google Drive are also able to store your iOS photos, and they’re unlikely to be going anywhere any time soon (though again, you’ll need free space).
Reinstall or Delete Apps
iOS apps store data over time, and there’s no quick way to purge this data on iOS. For some apps, like music production utilities, it’s obvious where this data has gone, and removing files via iTunes File Transfer will regain your space without losing any data. However, there’s no reason for certain apps to occupy so much space on your device.
A classic example is Facebook, and though the app is presently a 115MB download (yes, really) it’s somehow occupying 575MB on my iPhone. To get this data back, you’ll need to delete the app and reinstall it — which restarts the data hoarding process all over again. To find out which apps are occupying the most space on your device, head to Settings > General > Storage & iCloud Usage > Manage Storage.
This also gives you a handy overview of all apps on your device, listed by size. If you’re desperate for space, it might be time to be brutal and delete anything you no longer really need. Games you no longer play can sit on several gigabytes of space, but be aware that deleting them will also delete your app data (and any saved games you may have) unless you backup via iTunes File Transfer first.
Browsers Take Up Space Too
Just like third-party apps, your iPhone also caches data. If you make heavy use of the Reading List feature, you might find that Safari is sitting on a few hundred spare megabytes you could put to better use. Just like Facebook, this cache can swell in size and you’ll find Safari listed in the Manage Storage menu, with a breakdown of what you’re storing exactly.
Head to Settings > General > Storage & iCloud Usage > Manage Storage and choose Safari. Then hit Edit and tap the red delete icon next to Offline Reading List to delete saved items. Reading list and bookmarks will remain in tact, but stored data will be removed. If you want to delete all web data for some reason, head to Settings > Safari.
If you use Chrome or another browser, you might find them occupying space on your phone in the Manage Storage menu. Often you’ll find an option to delete saved data within the app’s settings.
Remove Offline Media & Stream More
Our smartphones do everything, which means we’re increasingly reliant on them as entertainment devices. Music apps like Spotify and Apple Music, as well as video apps like Amazon Prime and similar services, allow you to store media offline so that you have something to do when you don’t have an Internet connection. Unfortunately, these offline features can occupy a lot of space.
Unless you’re trying to cut down on your data usage, you might want to stream more entertainment in order to maximize available storage space. For music fans who prefer to listen to their own collections rather than streaming catalogues, iTunes Match allows you to stream everything stored in your main library for $24.99 per year.
Streaming may quickly use up your mobile plan’s available data, so make sure you keep an eye on it to avoid any nasty surprises. You’ll also be limited to streaming only when you have an available Internet connection.
If you’re using an app like VLC as an alternative media manager to iTunes, you should look into deleting stored files you don’t use to free up space. See also: comic book readers, creative apps like FiLMiC Pro, podcast apps, on-demand tv apps, and even eBook and PDF readers.
Clear Out Messages
By default, the iOS Messages app will save your images and text messages forever and can end up occupying quite a bit of space on your device. Though default settings are set to allow videos to expire after two minutes, I noticed a fair few videos had been saved also — and these take up even more space. To adjust these settings head to Settings > Messages and change Keep Messages to “1 Year” or “30 Days” if you’re not particularly sentimental in that regard.
But what about messages already saved to your device? The first thing you should do is check just how much space messages occupy on your device. You can do this under the Settings > General > Storage & iCloud Usage > Manage Storage menu — just find Messages in the list to see how much precious space it’s taking up.
I’ve had an iPhone consistently since 2010, and I have attachments and messages going back that far since I’ve always restored new devices using a backup. My Messages app only occupies 5GB of space, which isn’t such a big deal considering the time frame and the fact that I’m using a 64GB iPhone 6. If you’d rather the space, then you can free up space by deleting some of this data.
The easiest way is by deleting whole threads. Find an individual or group you message frequently, swipe to the left and choose Delete. If you’re wondering if a particular thread is occupying space, check the attachments by tapping it and choosing Details in the top-right to browse all saved attachments. Long-press an attachment to bring up an option to delete it, or long-press then hit More to select multiple attachments followed by the “trash” icon.
Messages and associated attachments can’t be recovered unless you restore your iPhone from a backup you made before you started deleting things. If you want to maximize your space but keep memories in tact, I’d recommend focusing your attention on videos, but don’t forget to save and transfer any you want to keep.
Install iOS Updates
If you’re one for putting off pending updates (especially major updates) then you should update them. The kicker here is that you often need some free space available for your iPhone to do its thing and unpack the pending update, so this probably isn’t a solution if your device is already full.
Much of the time iOS will download pending updates when your phone is idle, charging, and on Wi-Fi. This means that for as long as you’re putting the update off, there’s an update waiting to be installed wasting space on your phone. Of course, some major updates end up consuming more space than the previous version of iOS, so this isn’t a golden rule.
Regardless, it’s always good to keep your iPhone up to date!
Using Third-Party Software
iMobie’s PhoneClean is an app that promises to clean up all the junk files left behind on your device. As it’s a third-party application that runs on your Mac or Windows computer, the software goes a little deeper than simply deleting apps or removing media. It must be said that there’s always an element of risk when allowing a third-party app to perform maintenance on your iPhone.
We tested the second version of PhoneClean in 2013 and found that it does indeed work, and it didn’t break the device we tested it on either. The app was able to reclaim about 1GB of space on a 16GB iPad, but PhoneClean was a free program back then. These days it’s on its fourth version and will cost you about $20 per year, or $30 for a single licence.
Even though the app has received good reviews, and it seems to work, there’s always an element of “buyer beware” when using a third-party alternative. So keep that in mind if you’re thinking of turning to PhoneClean to recover space on your device.
iPhone Size Matters
The best way to keep storage issues at bay is to buy a large iPhone, especially if you like shooting photos and videos, playing games, or saving music to your device for offline enjoyment. It’s not fun juggling a few spare gigabytes, especially when new iPhones come with features like Live Photos that take up even more space.
How do you maintain free space on your iPhone? Add your tips in the comments below!