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How to free up storage space on your iPhone and iPad

Time to make some room ahead of Apple's next big software update

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If you have owned your iPhone or iPad for a few years, chances are you will be running short on space. Despite 64, 128 or even 256GB feeling like a huge amount of storage when your device was new, it doesn't take long for apps, music, video and other data to fill it all up.

Uploading data to iCloud can help here, and you will no doubt have received prompts asking you to pay monthly for a more expansive option. But even then, a large app library can fill up your phone, making software updates impossible.

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With Apple's new iOS 14 update just around the corner, you'll need to free up a chunk of space (potentially 1GB or more) so it can be downloaded and installed.

Start with apps first

Thankfully, freeing up space can be quick and easy. There's no need to individually delete thousands of photographs, or worry about application data disappearing into the ether. The simplest and most effective way to make space is to delete the apps you no longer use (trust us, there are many that you no longer use), and keep tabs on apps that are holding onto files you no longer need.

For us, we found Apple's own Podcasts app was holding onto hundreds of podcasts we had already listened to. In fact, over 17GB of our iPhone's 64GB was for podcasts alone.

But before we delve into individual apps, there are some system-wide changes to make.

Viewing storage on an iPhone Viewing storage on an iPhoneGearBrain

Offloading unused applications

A feature we doubt many iPhone users have heard of is called Offload Unused Apps. This will take the apps you haven't used for a long time, then partially remove them. The icon will remain in place, and important data associated with it will remain, but the app itself will be removed.

When an app has been offloaded an icon will appear next to its name on your home screen. Tap the app to open it, and it will quickly download from the App Store (without you having to do anything) and be ready to open in a few seconds. When you open the app, it will be exactly how you left it; no logging back in required.

To enabled app offloading, open the Settings app and navigate to General -> iPhone Storage, then tap Enable next to Offload Unused Apps.

What's more, seeing which apps have been automatically offloaded can help you decide which need deleting for good. Haven't played those games in a while? Maybe it's best to delete and forget about them, instead of holding onto their data in the hope you might one day play them again.

Optimize the Photos app

Photos and videos often take up a huge amount of space on your iPhone and iPad. To help prevent this, Apple has a tool called Optimize iPhone Storage, which saves smaller, lower-quality versions of your photos and videos on your phone, but keeps the full-quality originals on iCloud.

To enable this, open the Settings app, then tap on Photos and Optimise iPhone Storage.

If space is not an issue for you, the Download and Keep Originals option will keep full-quality copies on your device instead.

If you are yet to store any photos in iCloud, Go to Settings -> Photos and tap the iCloud Photos toggle switch.

Only save the HDR version of photos

By default, the iPhone camera will switch to HDR when it thinks it's necessary to take a better photo. There is a setting to save the HDR version of a photo as well as the non-HDR version, but doing so takes up space with photos that are sometimes almost identical. To manage these functions, open the Settings app and tap on Camera.

Clear out your videos folder

You probably have a lot of videos shot with your iPhone that no longer hold any value to you. The dozen identical clips you took at a concert five years ago, or the out-of-focus videos of a fireworks display you forget you even went to.

We're not talking child's-first-steps video, obviously, but plenty of footage shot on a phone loses value over time. So open the Photos app, tap on Albums, then Videos. Now tap Select at the top, tap on what you no longer want (and probably can't remember anyway), then tap on the trash can.

iPhone storage tips Ways to free up storage on an iPhoneGearBrain

Deleting content from certain applications

The iPhone Storage page of the Settings app is where you will find exactly how much space each app is taking up. It is likely that media apps like Spotify and Apple Music will be at the top (especially if you have a lot of music saved locally), along with the Photos app and Mail if you have a lot of emails with large attachments in your inbox.

But some apps here might surprise you. For example, we found the Apple Podcasts app had bloated to over 17GB, as hundreds of podcast episodes had remained on our iPhone, even months after they had been listened to.

Tapping on Podcasts on this page shows you exactly how much space each show you subscribe to is taking up, and how many episodes that represents. You can simply slide a podcast to the left and tap delete to get rid of them.

If this has happened to you too, and you want the app to only keep the most recent episodes on your phone, open the Podcasts app, then tap Library, followed by the podcast you want to slim down. Now tap on the circular purple icon with three white dots on it, followed by Settings, then Only Keep The Most Recent Episodes.

You can now pick how many to keep saved on your phone at a time, running from one to 10, or by time from one day to one month.

You can also make the Podcasts app delete every episode after it is played. Open the Settings app and go to Podcasts, then scroll to the Episode Downloads section.

Or you can stop the app from downloading anything automatically, leaving you to manually grab new episodes when they are released.

Thin out your music collection

Similarly, the iPhone Storage page lets you selectively delete content from the Apple Music app. Your collection is ordered by artist; swipe on an artist to delete their content, or tap on them and delete selected albums of theirs. This music can still be found in your Music collection and played, but it'll be streamed over 4G or Wi-Fi instead of playing locally from your iPhone's storage.

Check for downloads in media apps like Netflix

Downloading content from Netflix and other streaming apps makes sense when you have a long flight ahead, but HD movies and TV shows take up a lot of space. If you are running short on storage, head into your media apps and make sure there aren't any old downloads in there to be deleted.

Understanding the mysterious 'Other' section of your iPhone's storage

iPhone storage chart iPhone storage chartGearBrain

The iPhone Storage page of the Settings menu includes a useful chart showing how much space is taken up by apps, media, photos and the operating system itself. But sometimes a large proportion of space is occupied by the mysterious 'Other'.

Other accounts for all sorts of files on your phone, including system files, cashes from web browsers and other apps, alternative Siri voices, and data relating to streaming music and video. Instead of appearing in the Media section, files associated with content streamed from Netflix, YouTube and other places ends up in the Other section, and can account for a lot of space.

Quick ways to try and reduce this include rebooting your phone, force-closing all open applications, and closing Safari tabs if you have lots open.

You can also clear Safari's cache by opening the Settings app and going to Safari and tapping on the Clear History and Website Data button.

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