Free up space on an iPhone and iPad | Cult of Mac

Free up space on an iPhone and iPad

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Get some space back on your phone to install the upcoming iOS 16 beta.
Get some space back on your phone to install the upcoming iOS 16 beta.
Image: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

If you have an older phone, you may struggle with storage space. The iPhone 6s and first iPhone SE, the oldest devices to run iOS 15, shipped with as little as 16 GB of storage space. Even the 7th generation iPod Touch, a product that was long in the tooth when it debuted, shipped with 32 GB on the base model. How can you clear iPhone storage when you have such little wiggle room?

Perhaps you’re dedicated to keeping your old phone working until the iPhone 14 models are released this September. Maybe you need to clear up space on a spare device to install the anticipated developer beta of iOS 16 when it is released this June.

Whatever the case, read on to clear storage on your iPhone and iPad.

What to do when iPhone storage is full

Before you get started, take a look at what you’re working with. Go to Settings > General > iPhone Storage to see what’s taking up your space and how much you need to clear.

See which apps and media are taking up the most storage on your iPhone.
See which apps and media are taking up the most storage on your iPhone.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

How to save space on iPhone by deleting or offloading Apps

Tap on any app and you get the option to delete it. Just hit the Delete App button. Alternatively, you can choose to offload apps that you don’t open very often. This is less permanent than uninstalling apps. Rather than delete everything in the app, it keeps any personal data like sign-in information, game progress or cached data. That way, when you open it again, you don’t need to start from zero.

Offload apps you’re not using.
Offload apps you’re not using.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

Tap Enable from this screen to turn it on. If you don’t see it, go back to Settings > App Store and enable Offload Unused Apps.

Keep in mind that it does delete the app from your phone, so don’t delete an app that you might need to access where you may not have a good connection — public transportation apps, ticket and event apps, airline apps.

Safe bets are games, like Asphalt 8, which is taking up several gigabytes of space on my phone. (Remember when apps had to be limited to 150 MB to download over cellular?)

How to save space on iPhone with Photos

Optimize photos to reduce the number of videos saved to your phone.
Optimize photos to reduce the number of videos saved to your phone.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

Go back to Settings > Photos (scroll down a few pages) to manage your photo library. I cannot recommend enabling iCloud Photos enough. iCloud storage is very cheap — just $1 a month is plenty of storage to back up your entire library and data for most people.

With iCloud Photos enabled, select Optimize iPhone Storage. If this is your first time with iCloud Photos enabled, it will take time for this storage to clear up. Uploading your library to iCloud won’t happen within minutes if you already have a bunch of pictures and video. It might even take days. Plug your phone in, leave it on Wi-Fi and the uploading will continue in the background.

How to save space on iPhone with Messages

Text messages themselves take up virtually no space at all. >99.9% of the space is all in videos, photos and files.

To delete big media files from your messages, tap Edit, select a few, and tap the trash icon.
To delete big media files from your messages, tap Edit, select a few, and tap the trash icon.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

Navigate to Settings > General > iPhone Storage > Messages and tap Videos to see the top videos taking up space. You can tap on a video to preview it. As unofficial videographer in my family, most of the videos here are already in my photo library, so I can comfortably delete the top items from Messages.

Swipe right on a video to delete it or tap the Share icon to save it to your library.
Swipe right on a video to delete it or tap the Share icon to save it to your library.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

If there is a video you would like to save to your library, tap the share button and tap Save Video.

Swipe right on any item in the list to delete it or tap Edit to select several.

To back and tap PhotosGIFs and Stickers, and Other to clear out photos, GIFs and files in the same manner.

You can also tap Top Conversations to delete the entire message history with a particular person. I don’t recommend this because I value having a searchable conversation history, but you can if you want.

How to save space on iPhone with Music

Reduce the amount of music your phone should keep downloaded (or specify a minimum amount).
Reduce the amount of music your phone should keep downloaded (or specify a minimum amount to keep no matter what).
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

Music has an option for optimizing storage, too. Go to Settings > Music > Optimize Storage and enable Optimize Storage. This will only keep the music you listen to frequently.

But if you have a very big music library, you might not want your phone to offload so much of it. Select an option under Minimum Storage to keep at least 16 GB or more.

How to save space on iPhone with Podcasts

Limit the number of podcasts to keep per show.
Limit the number of podcasts to keep per show.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

There is a new feature in iOS 15.5 that lets you automatically limit the number of podcast episodes your phone keeps in your library. You can enable this by navigating back to Settings > Podcasts > Automatically Download.

After picking a limit, your phone will tell you how many episodes this will remove. Tap Remove ## Downloads to clear them out.

To learn more, like how to configure different settings for a particular show, read about this in greater detail in my previous article here.