Find and delete storage-hogging iMessage chats in iOS 11

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iMessage storage
iMessage gets a bunch of new space-saving features in iOS 11 beta.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Maybe, if you opt for one of the new 512GB iPads, you won’t have to worry about storage space. But for everyone else, iOS 11 has you covered. Now, under a new section in settings, you can whittle down the storage used by the iMessage app, weeding out old conversations, revealing oversized attachments, and even check to see which conversations are taking up the most space.

Let’s see how to use it.

Some folks are constantly deleting apps and data to free up space on their iPhones and iPads, whilst simultaneously cursing themselves for buying a 32GB $650 iPhone and cheating out on another measly $100 to get the 128GB model. This guide is for you. First, head to Settings>General>iPad Storage, and wait for everything to load.

Here you’ll see the familiar usage bar, color-coded to show you how much space is being eaten up by photos, apps, media, and other. At the bottom is another familiar sight: apps arranged by the space they occupy. If you tap one of these, then you’ll get a new option to “offload” the app, but more on that in a bit.

Auto-delete old conversations in iMessage

Does what it says on the tin -- trashes anything over a year old.
Does what it says on the tin — trashes anything over a year old.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Switch this one on and iOS will cull any messages and attachments that were sent or received more than a year ago. The setting tells you how much space you will save by switching it on. I don’t like this one, yet, because it’ll probably delete messages I still want. Plus, it’s the attachments that take up space, not the text. Which brings us to:

Review large attachments

This one shows you large attachments so you can choose to delete them.
This one shows you large attachments so you can choose to delete them.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Tap this one and you’re taken to a list of all the large iMessages attachments on your device, ordered by size. Tap to see them (and play them, in the case of videos), and swipe to delete. You can also bulk-delete attachments by tapping Edit, then tapping the little circles to mark the attachments you want to trash, then tapping the Trash Can.

You can also save any of the images of videos to your camera roll, although you have to do this one-at-a-time.

Review large conversations

This one shows which conversations are taking up the most space.
This one shows which conversations are taking up the most space.
Photo: Cult of Mac

This one is similar to the previous option. You see a list of your biggest iMessage conversations, ordered by size. Swiping a conversation will delete it, and tapping it will open it own the iMessage app. You can also bulk-delete in the same way you can bulk-delete attachments, above. It’s a great way to find old, dead conversations that might be taking up a lot of space.

Offloading apps

In iOS 11 you can delete an app, but leave its data intact.
In iOS 11 you can delete an app, but leave its data intact.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Previously in iOS, you could delete and app from this Storage section, as well as (sometimes) deleting its data (movies in the Videos app, for example). Now you can Offload an app instead. This deletes the app itself, but leave the data behind. If you reinstall the app in the future, then this data will again be available. This is handy if the app itself is huge, but the data is small. On my iPad, for instance, Keynote takes up 600MB, but it only has a few MB worth of documents.

This new setting deletes little-used apps, but keeps their data.
This new setting deletes little-used apps, but keeps their data.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Manual offloading is a companion to another new setting, which automatically offloads unused apps, keeping their data for whenever you reinstall them. This setting, seen above, is available in Settings>iTunes & App Store.

Storage

Apple is attacking storage from two directions. The iPad now comes with up to half a terabyte of storage, which means you have more space for everything. At the same time, Apple’s making it easier to clean out the cruft that eventually fills up the system. This is getting more and more important, because most of us just restore a new device from an iCloud backup of an old one, carrying everything forward. Only supernerds ever do a clean install, so most people really could have years-old iMessage attachments they don’t need, and apps they haven’t opened since they bought their first iPhone.

I’d still like to see a way to auto-save photos and videos from my iMessages to my Photos app, but I suspect that’s switched off to save sexting politicians from having their boner-selfies showing up on the family Apple TV screensaver.

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