Backing up and freeing up space on your iPhone

One of the biggest problems with the iPhone is that it has fixed storage, so if you made the mistake of buying one of the smaller capacities it can be a real problem. So what can you do to make the most out of the storage you have?

Before we look at freeing up valuable space let's perform what most people regard as a mundane task right up to the point where they think they've lost everything - backups. With iOS you have a couple of ways to backup - to a PC or to iCloud. Apple give you 5GB of space free of charge, but this doesn't go far when you start backing up your photos and recorded videos. Thankfully they don't include apps or purchased content, so if you're a gamer or have a large music library you won't have to take that content into consideration.

download itunes largeBacking up to iTunes

Starting with iTunes, this is the simplest and most cost-effective way to backup your iPhone, as you don't have to pay for any cloud space. You can back up either wired or wirelessly, depending on how you've configured it. Simply open up iTunes and when the iPhone icon appears top-left click on it. You'll be taken to the main phone information screen, where you can see how much space is left on your device and the breakdown of the types of item stored. (You can also view this on the phone itself under Settings | General | Storage & iCloud Usage,  then select Manage Storage under Device). Back in iTunes you can see a Backup button. ensure the 'encrypt backups' is checked and then click on Backup, entering your iTunes password when prompted. This will backup all of your phone's content locally. Bear in mind that if you already sync your calendar, contacts and music then this is probably already stored/backed up on your computer anyway.

Good points:

  • You don't have to pay for cloud storage
  • Resolves any concerns you have over backing up your data on Apple's servers
  • You may already be syncing calendars, contacts, emails and music, so it's only your photos, app data and phone settings that you are needing to back up, as the rest is already stored on your PC (and hopefully already being backed up elsewhere)

Bad points:

  • Your data is only as up-to-date as your last backup
  • If you lose your PC as well (e.g. fire or theft) then you've lost everything

Backing up to iCloud

icloudApple try to make the user experience as easy as possible, and backing up to iCloud is as simple as flicking a few software switches on the phone. As mentioned earlier, you'll almost certainly need to upgrade to one of their paid pricing plans, starting at 79p per month for 50GB. Enabling it will disable the automatic backup that occurs when you connect to iTunes, but you can override this if necessary. Backups will occur each time your phone is on charge and connected to WiFi, which is essentially every night when you go to sleep. In recent iOS upgrades it's a little more confusing, as there are a few places that you can view similar data (e.g. General | Storage and iCloud Usage and iCloud | Storage), so if unsure do follow the instructions on the Apple Support website.

Good points:

  • Set and forget
  • Your data is always backed up

Bad points:

  • Almost certainly requires an upgrade to the free 5GB of space
  • May raise security concerns for some

Clearing out space on your iPhone

You'll be surprised at the apps that can quietly fritter away your free storage. For example, on my phone I currently have nearly 1GB of WhatsApp messages - most of which will be associated images. Your first port of call is under Settings | General | Storage & iCloud Usage and click Manage Storage for the top (local) device. You'll be presented with your used/available space at the top and a list will start to populate underneath in descending order showing the main space-hogging culprits. It's most likely that Photos & Videos, Music and Movies will be somewhere near the top, but there may be some surprises in there.

google photosSticking with photos, it doesn't take long to amass thousands of photos and videos. Yes, you can transfer them to your PC but who has time for that? Google Photos is a great solution. They kindly give you unlimited storage of photos up to 16megapixels (which is greater than the iPhone's camera can currently take). If you want to backup photos in higher res - perhaps from your PC - then you'll have to shell out a monthly fee for storage with them as well. Setting up is simple - just download the Google Photos app and set it to auto-sync. That may take a while, but once done all your photos are safely backed up in the cloud. You can then click on the Free Up Space menu item within the app to delete any backed up photos. Next time you want to view them simple open the app (rather than your camera roll) and browse or search for your photos. Google Photos is intelligent enough to categorise your photos, so searching for 'cat' will show only those photos that contain a cat. It also has facial recognition and a bunch of other simple but useful editing tools. You can also download the PC photo backup tool, which will sync your PC photos with your iPhone ones - great if you have, say, a DSLR camera where you transfer these photos to your PC for editing and backup.

Heavy internet usage can also create plenty of temporary files within Safari, but fortunately this is a quick problem to solve. Click Settings | Safari and scroll down to Clear History and Website Data

iOS 11 drops support for 32 bit apps, so you may want to take the opportunity to purge any apps which have (most likely) not been updated for years. Click Settings | General | About | Applications, and you'll see a list of apps requiring updates. Deleting all of these apps also delivers the added benefit of a minor speed boost, as iOS no longer has to load the 32 bit kernal to run these apps, freeing up precious memory and processor cycles.

Not using the space in the first place

If you simply can't get by without your plethora of apps and are on a device with relatively small memory then your best option is to ensure that wherever possible you store data outside of your handset. This effectively means streaming it from elsewhere. For music you are spoilt for options - Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify, Deezer to name but a few. Again, expect to break open the wallet on a monthly basis to the tune of £10-15, but for that you effectively get access to pretty much anything you even want to listen to without having to sync music to your phone.

The same applies to video. The likes of Virgin and Sky both have apps that allow you to watch mainstream TV, there's BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, Netflix, Amazon Prime and more.Of course, the down-side to streaming is that you can't do it when you are away from an Internet connection and if you are on a limited data plan then you'll quickly eat through your alloted data, possibly racking up big bills in the process.

pny duo link3

If you already have a library of files that you need to occasionally access on the device then consider investing in the PNY Duo-Link 3.0. This has a USB socket on one end, Lightning on the other and up to 128GB of storage in the middle. Plug the USB end into your PC and it's seen as a standard memory stick to copy your files to. Remove it, move the slider to make the lightning socket available, plug it into your phone, install the app and you're ready to go. The app opens up automatically on insertion and allows you to access either the memory on the Duo-Link 3.0 or a dedicated storage area within the app on your device. Due to restrictions in iOS it cannot share data between many apps, but you can access your camera roll and can copy files in either direction. It can view a number of different file formats, and even has its own media player that can handle a variety of different movie extensions, including .AVI, MP4 and even .MKV. In fact, I've found it to be a more capable media player than Apple's own built in movie player. The other great use for this is, for example, if you're travelling and taking large numbers of pictures or video but have no internet access - Google Photos is not going to be available to free up space, but you can simply plug in the Duo-Link 3.0 and copy your camera roll across.

Cloud storage services like iCloud Drive, DropBox, OneDrive and Google Drive also allows you to shuttle data off your phone. With the integration that iOS now delivers it's easy to move data to the cloud so that you can delete it off your device.Once installed and configured ust click on the share icon ( a box with an up arrow) from most apps and select your chosen cloud service. Many apps have built in cloud-syncing as standard. For example, Scanner Pro, one of the best page-scanning apps out there, has support for all major cloud services and can have a file synced to your preferred service within seconds of scanning it. So not only can you immediately delete it from your phone but it's instantly synced with your main PC.

Summary

Running out of space needn't be a terminal issue if you spend the time to intelligently utilise your storage. Pruning apps you don't need or (32-bit ones) that will no longer work after iOS11, streaming your music/videos and using cloud storage or external devices like the PNY Duo-Link are excellent ways to minimise the amount of data that you need to store on the device and may also protect you from data loss if your handset gets lost, stolen or damaged.