How To

How to manage storage on iPad and iPhone

Let’s face it, 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB of hard drive space in today’s high definition, media rich, digital world is not a lot of space at all.  Because these three denominations are all the hard drive space Apple’s offering today, it’s a constant struggle to maximize the use of your storage. Let us help you manage storage on iPad and iPhone with an assortment of tips and tricks. Read on for our full guide.

Local vs Cloud Storage
Before we actually dive into the in’s and out’s of storage on your iOS device, we want to make the distinction clear between what “counts” and doesn’t towards your 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB iOS Device’s Local storage.  Local, in this case, refers to the actual hard drive within your device.  Cloud Storage is an internet accessable hard drive on which some of your content can live, though accessible through your iOS Device.  iTunes Match is a good example of this, where you can see your entire music library, though it does not all necessarily have to be saved locally on your iOS device.

Managing Local Storage
For the sake of this guide, we will be using a 64GB iPhone 4s as our example device.   There are multiple ways to decrease the amount of space being taken up on your iOS Device.  A good place to start is by considering the top users of space; Videos, Apps, and Music (with Photos coming in a close 4th).

High Definition Videos are a natural fit for the beautiful displays on iOS devices.   However, storing them within, long term not only usually does not make sense, it can be a real drain on your devices storage.  Luckily Apple and other iOS Developers have come up with multiple ways to consume gorgeous video on your device, without sucking out its storage potential.  Renting from iTunes is a great way to watch it and let it go, as the process happens automatically without you needing to intervene.  Netflix, Youtube, and other Video Streaming services are also a great idea (as long as your on Wifi) to save space.

I fell into the trap for a while of downloading lots of games, utilities, education, etc apps.  You name it, I’ve had it – regardless of the size.  What I eventually realized was that I was using about 10% of the apps on my iOS devices, but my storage capacity was filled about 40% from apps.  The moral of the story here is that you need to regularly comb through and remove unused apps.  Many of them do take up only small bits of space, and there is an easy way to see which are the culprits for taking up the space.  Head to Settings > General > Usage and after a few seconds you will see, listed from most to least, what’s using up your space on your iOS device.

You can see below, in my case I choose to keep all of my music on my device and employ iTunes Match (we’ll get to later) as a means to control storage on my iPad.  Second, Third, and Forth are Navigon, iMovie, and SloPro.  Two immediate actions I can take is to remove unneeded iMovies from within the app, and remove SloPro (haven’t used it in months) altogether from my iOS device.  I just saved myself about 2GB of space in 10 seconds!

This is an interesting one.  Some of us have 100MB worth of music total, others have 100GB.  Regardless of your music libraries size, you have multiple options to manage it.  First, only sync music you listen to onto your iPhone.  I know many people choose to do this in order to save space, and it’s a good idea.  I choose to sync my entire music library to my device for a couple of reasons, but I’ll get to that in a second.

The other option you have with music is to use iTunes Match.  iTunes Match works in the following way.   Apple has millions of songs stored on their servers, with each song existing only 1 time.  Once you pay for iTunes Match ($25/year), your iTunes library will be “Matched.”  This means every song you have will be given permission to Apple’s version to download wherever you wish, whenever you wish through your Apple ID.  Their version is also an upgraded bitrate.  This ties back to storage in that those of us with massive music libraries (though has to be less than 25,000 songs), can simply use iTunes Match to see a visible link to their song on their iOS device (while connected) without it actually taking up space.  Once a non-local song is clicked on, it will download to the device, though it will begin playing through streaming once enough has been downloaded from the server.  After all of this, I’m sure many of you are wondering why I would possibly choose to take up over 30GB of my iPhone’s space with music then?  The answer lies in playback.  When I plug my iPhone into my Dock or Car, only local songs will be shuffled or played – the playback functionality will not shuffle non downloaded songs.  Because of this, I choose to store my music locally, but not everyone may care about that.

With higher definition comes higher storage numbers.  That 1080p video you just shot looks great, but good luck downloading angry birds now.  It’s true, the 1080p video the newer iOS Devices use can be a storage drain.  It’s difficult to give exact numbers on second’s correlation to space, as the quality of lighting has a lot to do with the size of the video, but you could assume every 1 minute of 1080p iOS Video will eat up about, 80MB of storage.  That’s the equivalent to about 10 5 minute long songs worth of space.  Again, I don’t recommend not using the features of the devices.  After all, isn’t this why we bought them?  Rather I propose shooting videos and photos, and sending the majority off to your local computer’s hard drive. I do keep quite a few photos on my iOS devices to show to family and friends, though I am always conscious to back them up on a computer, and remove pointless videos.

Managing iCloud Storage
Apple gives you a free 5GB of iCloud storage.  Most people don’t opt for the increased storage plans due to their relatively high fees.   The main purpose of iCloud storage is to help those without a home computer on which to backup to in case of emergency.  Alternatively, some people just don’t feel like having to plug in to create backups.  In either of these cases, iCloud provides an easy outlet to store documents, photos, and backup your information automatically.

If you’re like me, and store multiple devices on the same iCloud account, you may have to be consent of iCloud space.  In order to keep track, head to Settings > General > Usage and scroll down to the iCloud section to find and press Manage Storage.

This will pull up a list of devices being synced to your iCloud account.  You can remove other devices from your iCloud from this screen, or see what’s being stored from the device your currently on, within iCloud.  From here you can remove unwanted items or at least take action on reducing items such as the backed up photo library.  You also have the option of choosing not to backup one or more of the selections.

Apple has done a great job of creating good reason to not have very high storage capable iOS devices by providing both native outlets (iCloud) and including iCloud SDK compatibility in order to make sure developers have access to foreign storage features.  We hope this guide helped with your storage management knowledge!



  1. Roy Olsen

    September 19, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    I’m not sure that backups is the main purpose of iCloud, although it certainly is one important feature. Otherwise a very informative article, cheers!

  2. Beckie

    November 25, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I still don’t understand how to control my local storage, all it says here is what it is. I have over 1gb of free storage but it still tells me I don’t have enough room to download any apps.

    • Celia Louise Bean

      December 7, 2014 at 12:00 am

      Yeah, me too like HOW do you get more storage (or in my case) transfer it when downloading straight to iCloud ir I drive or whatever because it keeps saying your iPad has no local memory but I have bought a terabyte of I cloud space- why can’t I access that and where/ how do I get that… Anybody else with this issue? I’m sorry this was a little incongruent to follow but I’m roughly tapping this out in my rush to find a solution?!?!

  3. Tim H.

    March 10, 2013 at 6:49 am

    I’ve got a 32 gig ipad. I have about 17000 photos on it. A pop-up tells me that I need more ‘local storage’ & to look in ‘Settings”.

    Where, what, how?

    e >

    • Angelina Podolsky

      March 13, 2015 at 7:16 am

      I have a 5 gb ipad and I still cannot download any apps

  4. al

    April 23, 2013 at 8:25 am

    Hardly a “how to” article. It reads more like a long copy infomercial for icloud and itunes match.

  5. Debora

    May 26, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    I was able to free up some space so that I could take pictures, however, now my camera shutter will not open. What do I need to do?

  6. John

    March 20, 2015 at 6:17 pm

    I have deleted many photos and videos but I still can’t take any pictures

  7. Robin

    April 14, 2015 at 9:23 am

    I just got the iPhone 5c and iPad mini within a week my phone says storag almost full then the touch screen stopped working I can’t even power down. How do I fix this?

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