Reclaiming Space on an iPhone or iPad

April 28, 2014 at 18:54:59

An iOS device (an iPhone or iPad) should just chug along, doing its thing, but instead it turns out to need some care and feeding — which is not at all easy, seeing that its contents are pretty much opaque. In particular, every once in a while, everyone should probably be fighting “space creep,” a phenomenon where the amount of free space on the device shrinks unaccountably over time.

On my 16GB iPad, I just went from this:


to this:


My free space almost doubled, from about 2.5GB to nearly 5GB. Most of the reclaimed space comes from the mysterious “Other” usage category, a category that Apple, as far as I know, has never satisfactorily explained. Oddly, though, some of the Apps space has also been reclaimed, even though it’s the same set of apps with the same sandboxed data; perhaps the difference can be attributed to inefficiencies in caching policies of individual apps.

On my 16GB iPhone, this difference is even more dramatic; I went from 2.5GB free to 7GB free, of which, once again, some was a reduction of about 2GB in the “Other” category, but the rest comes from the “Apps” category.

The procedure I used is simple and painless. I connected the iOS device to my computer via USB, launched iTunes, and did a Sync of the device, to back up the latest data. Then I clicked Restore iPad or Restore iPhone (the text of the button changes depending which type of device it is). iTunes erases the iOS device and installs a fresh system. It asks whether you want to set up as a clean device or restore from an existing backup; you restore from the existing backup. When that process is all over, Sync once more.

It’s an easy process and doesn’t take all that long, and when it’s over, the device is right back to where it was before. The exception is that if you don’t have the device set to sync things like Music, Video, and Books, those categories (the native data of the Music app, the Videos app, and the iBooks app, respectively) don’t automatically recover their contents. So you might want to take note of what’s there before starting the process, so that you can restore that stuff manually afterwards (by dragging from iTunes or the Finder).

Also, before starting the procedure, I went to Settings and turned off all iCloud categories (and I turned them back on when the procedure was over). My thought here was that perhaps the iCloud caches were part of what was taking up extra space. I’ve no idea whether this made any difference, but it’s hard to see how it can hurt.

It’s frustrating to find that this sort of nursemaid activity is required, but the space savings is so dramatic that I am resigned to doing it every few months from now on.


This page prepared April 28, 2014 by Matt Neuburg, phd = matt at tidbits dot com, using RubyFrontier. RubyFrontier is a port, written in the Ruby language, of the Web-site-creation features of UserLand Frontier. Works just like Frontier, but written in Ruby!
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