16GB iPhone: The low-storage survival guide

16GB iPhone: The low-storage survival guide

Maybe you wanted to save $100 and get the cheapest iPhone 5c or iPhone 5s you could, or maybe you were just desperate to get an iPhone, any iPhone, in the color and on the carrier you most wanted. Maybe you paid $1500 for a gold iPhone 5s without even checking how much storage it had! Whatever the reason, you're now stuck with 16GB and you're already running out of space. You can't download any more apps or games, you can't take any more pictures or videos, you can't even update when a new version of iOS 7 is pushed out. Nerd world problem, maybe, but you're frustrated, you're exasperated, and you don't want to live like this any more. What do you do?

What's taking up all our 16GB of iPhone storage space?

16GB might sound like enough space when you're looking at an online order page or staring at a display or box in a retail store, so what's the problem with it in the real world? Where do all those gigabytes go when you get your iPhone meets the real world?

  • Operating system: The first big bite out of your 16GB of iPhone storage is iOS 7 itself. And it really is a big one. Roughly 2-3GB.

  • Photos & videos: The iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c can both take 8 megapixel photos and 28 megapixel panoramas, and shoot 1080p video at 30fps. The iPhone 5s can also shoot 720p and 120fps. Those can be some big files. About an hour of 1080p video can take up roughly 10GB of storage.

  • Movies, TV, and music: iTunes movies can be 1-3GB in size for SD depending on the length. If you prefer watching HD, they can be 3-6GB. iTunes TV shows can be a quarter to half the size of movies, but more than make up for it by the number of episodes typically available. Music files are much smaller, but most people have a lot more songs, which more than makes up for it.

  • Apps and games: Apps and especially games can also take up a lot of space on your iPhone. It's not uncommon for some console-quality games to be well over 1GB in size these days. Large reference apps, with tons of movies and pictures can also be over 1GB. Then there's the content. If you create media files or documents, that can quickly eat away at your storage too.

  • Attachments: If you get a lot of files attached to your email, or receive a lot of MMS/iMessages with media attachments, all of those take up space, especially if they're recent and/or stored locally on your iPhone.

How can you reclaim your 16GB of iPhone space, and get on with your life?

The bad news is you can't reduce the amount of space taken up on your 16GB iPhone by iOS. The good news is, you can reduce almost everything else. And you have two major options:

  • Off-load: Connect your iPhone to your Mac or Windows PC, copy over any photos, videos, movies, TV shows, music, apps, and games you're not using, then delete them from your iPhone. Then, move them back and forth as/when you want to take them with you. It's old-school and arduous, but if you're the type who enjoys micro-managing everything, it's an option.

  • Online: Cloud services, be they nearline storage or steaming solutions can keep your photos, videos, movies, TV shows, music, apps, and games off your iPhone, but available on the internet, often just a tap or two away. It requires an internet connection, of course, but it's the new thing, and it's a perfect match for mobile.

Off-loading is direct, fast for large files, but requires you have the Mac or Windows PC you sync with available whenever you need to move content around. If you're out and want to shoot a video of your child, pet, or simply something amazing, you're stuck. You'll have to delete something else to make room. If you never leave your computer, and always have your Lightning cable handle, maybe it won't be a problem. In the real world, you'll have to be pre-emptive and take enough stuff off that you always have extra space when you go out.

Online is convenient, and can be used anywhere, but if you don't have a lot of data, or a solid connection, it can be expensive or frustrating to get what you want, when you want it. If you never leave a Wi-Fi hotspot, and the services you want are in your area, you could get by. Dropbox, Google+, Flickr, Spotify, Songza, iTunes Radio, Netflix, Amazon, and other services cover both your stuff, and catalog stuff, giving you way more from the cloud than you ever could fit on a single phone.

A mixture of both is also possible. You can sync on and off bigger stuff you don't use often, like old photos and videos, and movies and TV shows you've bought but already seen. You can store or stream smaller stuff, and things you don't need all the time, but do need to be able to access at any time.

How are you managing your 16GB iPhone?

If you have a 16GB iPhone 5s or iPhone 5c, and you've finely honed your storage managements skills, let us know your favorite tricks!

iPhone 5c

iPhone 5c
Apple's first popular iPhone with a 4-inch in-cell display, LTE 4G, and BT 4.0 LE. Fun features include:

Complete review >

Released
September, 2013

Alternatives
iPhone 5s, iPhone 4s

Replacements
iPhone 6 (rumored)
Fall, 2014

Resources
Buyers guide
Help forum

iPhone 5s

iPhone 5s
Apple's current flagship iPhone with a 4-inch in-cell display, LTE 4G, and BT 4.0 LE. New features include:

Complete review >

Released
September, 2013

Alternatives
iPhone 5c, iPhone 4s

Replacements
iPhone 6 (rumored)
Fall, 2014

Resources
Buyers guide
Help forum

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter, App.net, Google+.

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There are 30 comments. Add yours.

diegonei says:

We should have one of these at CrackBerry. Good article!

Kevin Michaluk says:

On CrackBerry the article would read.... "Buy a microSD card!" :)

engmessam says:

Totally right, i am using these solutions for my Nexu4.
But Z10 no problem ;)

ungibbed says:

The hardest part when I did have a BlackBerry were the apps with memory leaks and slowing the phone with the clock of doom on my old 9700. Had that phone never died I may not be holding the 16GB iPhone I have now.

I manage with games that are smaller and more mobile centric. Other apps are for media streaming such as Netflix and others with a small footprint. I do have apps that are also a bit larger than expected but also when all is said and done, I still have over 2GB free even after music synced and a few photo albums from my Mac

JacobTheLegendary says:

Pictures and videos attached in iMessage is a big one. So I delete pictures and videos as I send and receive them. And if I want to keep something I just save it to my camera roll instead.

iphoneFowller says:

I have a 8 GB iPhone 4 and I wanted to download iOS 7 but I didn't have enough space so I deleted all my music all my texts all my apps and all my pictures and all my emails but I still don't have enough room.
When I connect the iPhone to the iTunes, I see the "Other" takes up most parts of iPhone space. Some people told me the "Other" is iPhone cache and junk files on yahoo answer. And said this app can clear them. http://www.fireebok.com/ilike.html.
But I want to know what the "Other" Space? Help...

CORYK333 says:

The mysterious "Other" space is actually your iPhones' soul........

tarabe11e says:

I think Other is maybe part of the files making up the OS? I noticed when I looked at my phone system info, it only listed about 12 GB as available when I first unboxed my 16GB 5s. So, I think that tells us quite a lot about the iOS memory consumption.

Rowanova says:

I don't do gaming so I'm sure that helps. Attachments that need to be saved are stored on the computer or in the cloud as soon as they're no longer needed on the iPhone. I keep my on-device apps down to only those I actually get a lot of use out of...mostly.

My use case is such that I don't have but minimal opportunities to listen to music, so I keep very few songs on device.

I use iCloud, Skydrive, Google Drive, and need to make a choice for photo cloud storage and access. Photos can take up a lot of my storage. Videos are infrequent and usually quite short, but online storage here would be good too.

Kevin Michaluk says:

Great article. Nice timing too. My $1500 GOLD 16GB iPhone 5s is almost outta space.... :/

Chris Parsons says:

I've never really had any issues managing a 16GB device. I think a lot of folks get caught up in having their music stored locally but with services like Rdio and Spotify, I rarely ever load my music directly onto my hardware any more. That really helps keeps space available.

jmush says:

With almost all data plans capped or "unlimited" with fine print caps, I don't understand all you people who can live by streaming all your music or constantly accessing your photos via Dropbox. You can save $100 on the upfront hardware by going with a 16 GB device, but you could end up spending more by needing
- a streaming music service (Spotify)
- cloud storage (Dropbox)
- a larger cellular data plan

So I have a 32 GB iPhone, and I load it up.

Becjr says:

I've been using all of the suggestions Rene has suggested since the days of my iPhone 3G. I only put a choice selection of have to have music. I too get rid of received message media and emails. Not really a mobile gamer. Most of the biggest apps I use are reference based (like Audubon apps).
My biggest struggle with space management has been app "bloating"... The only way to clear this up is to delete the app, then re-install - frustrating. A few apps are great enough to offer a feature to clear the app's cache, but too many apps act like bloating isn't an issue.

Sent from the iMore App

oscaramzz says:

I agree that there needs to be a better way to manage the bloating of apps. I need delete Facebook about every other month to save some space. I don't know if I'm mistaken but didn't apps in previous iOS do a "cleaning" automatically to clear that bloating? Anyone?

Sent from the iMore App

Becjr says:

I don't know if any apps perform such auto maintenance, but that would be outstanding. Even having the opportunity to schedule routine cleaning (like with Apple's Mail app) would be a nice step in the right direction. As far as I know, this has been a persistent issue... It makes me wonder why Apple hasn't addressed this sooner. Would such a thing be a battery killer if every app on your iOS device decided to dump the trash simultaneously once every day / week / month?

oscaramzz says:

I agree that there needs to be a better way to manage the bloating of apps. I need delete Facebook about every other month to save some space. I don't know if I'm mistaken but didn't apps in previous iOS do a "cleaning" automatically to clear that bloating? Anyone?

Sent from the iMore App

Analog Spirit says:

This sort of thing is why my next phone will have to have at least 32 GB of storage.

awatkins1983 says:

Go BIG or go home... 64GB!!! Plus it has the best resale value.

jpf22467#IM says:

I used to think the same. But 32 is the way to go. After 2 years of the 4S, I was able to sell my wifes 4S 16gb for $280, I got $325 for my 64GB.

VegaOrion says:

Biggest storage problem I had was with the iWork apps. Yes they d/l your work from the cloud so you can do a quick edit but for me they're stuck there. If I delete it from the app, it's gone from the cloud as well. The only solution I found was to delete iWork apps from my phone. (that i paid for and are now free arg!)

jpf22467#IM says:

I actually downsized to a 32GB this time. I use iTunes Match and only started off with my 3 favorite playlists. the rest of my 40GB of music is available anytime I want to listen. Flickr now has automatic upload. I dont play games on my phone. I used Dropbox, Box, Files. Everything is saved in multiple locations in the cloud. I travel for work, listen to my music in my car all day. Its only been a month, but I am staying under my 4GB data plan

erikbock says:

Every iPhone I have owned has been the 16 GB model and every iPad that I have had has been the 32 GB model. I don't put movies on my phone those go on my iPad. Perform a simple use case of what you're doing. I have my music on my phone as well as my iPad though I only have about 1100 songs. I just don't need that much music. Heck those 1100 songs are like 8 days of music. I look at a lot of apps. I cull the useless and the ones I don't use. I stopped flying United and American so guess what? Those apps are gone. If an app makes it to my last page ad still doesn't get used, it's gone. I stopped playing certain games, those apps are gone. I don't try to load every movie on my iPad, I have 80+ do you think I could get all those on my iPad?

With iOS7 and the auto update feature along with the carriers tiered data plans get the stale apps off your phone. I recently culled apps and reclaimed a gig of storage back. BTW I usually have 3+ GB available at all times

stoneland says:

I've only bought 16 GB iPhones and have had no problems with storage. I don't take a ton of photos to begin with, so I don't use a lot of space there. I have around 30 apps and none of them take up over 1 GB of space (this isn't by choice--those are just the apps I need and want to use). I also only have about 400 songs on my phone--I use streaming services mostly, so that saves space as well. I make it a habit to delete emails and text messages that I don't need, so I'm always running with like 8.5 GB free.

93Aero says:

I off load a lot of photos music etc to box and or dropbox, and backup with iCloud.

Jorge Anlehu Guillen says:

I only install what I really use, if it's games, only install 3 hevay ones that I know I will really play, same with social apps, Backup photos & video every month.

ijordo says:

iTunes Match for 25 a year has helped me and my wife. We share and Apple ID so all out music is stream able. I also have to use image capture to get my photos off my phone every now any then.

TekNiKal says:

The worst mistake I ever made was buying a 16GB iPad 3rd gen. I don't have pics, vids or music stored on it, only apps. I constantly run out of space, so I constantly delete apps. Some the apps are so damn big now. 1.3 GB, 725 MB, etc. I plan on buying my kids iPad minis for Christmas. They will definitely be 32 GB.

Joshua Massre says:

iTunes Match is absolutely worth it. It means that I don't have to worry about having 40 GB of music on my phone and if I know I'm going to be somewhere without a data connection, I can temporarily download an album or two and just delete them when I'm done.

SRASC24 says:

I use PhoneClean, a free desktop app, to clear out cache files every now & again. Sometimes it helps clean out a GB or a little more, usually a couple hundred MBs. I also have become a little more dependant on cloud services. Photo Stream, Flickr, iCloud to name a few. I have about 4GB in reserve for any pictures or videos I may record from time to time.
If you are a WhatsApp user I suggest you clear out or clean up the media files from your chats as those add up over time.

tarabe11e says:

As much as I liked the aesthetics of the iWork iOS apps, each consumed between 350-550 MB, whereas most apps are a modest 25-50 MB. So I went ahead and deleted them, saving myself about 2 GB of space, and will go back to using my Google Drive app to make any necessary documents on the go. I also sync/upload all my photos regularly to Dropbox, so this lets me delete all my photos safely from my phone, and frees up another couple MB. Unless you are planning to go on a trip and want to show off pictures to others, I don't see any reason to keep lots of photos on a phone, when you can easily sync and view pics 'in the cloud.'