iOS 8 wants: Better iCloud backups and storage management

Dear Apple: Please fix how Messages stores images and videos!

iMessage works well enough for sending texts and media like photos and videos. Sure, there are still some bugs involving the reliability and consistency of when and how messages pop up on multiple iOS and OS X devices, but for most people, most of the time, it just works. What doesn't "just work" is how the Messages app handles photos and videos after they're sent. Here's what's happening, why it's a bigger problem than many people realize, and why I'd really like to see it fixed in iOS 8...

I've written previously about how much storage space the Messages app takes up, and how important it is to clear out the photos so you can reclaim that space. For some of us, that can be not just megabytes, but gigabytes of data. I've had friends and family members ask me why they're out of storage only to discover they have over 5GB of wasted space in the Messages app. For owners of a 16GB iPhone or iPad, that's a huge deal.

The reason for this is how Messages handles media. As a simple example, say you save a photo to your Camera Roll from a message someone has sent you. Now you've got not one but two copies of the image on your iPhone or iPad. Not only is it cluttering up the Messages app, it's now increasing the storage you're using in your actual Camera Roll.

What makes this frustrating is that there's no way to quickly clear photos and videos out of the Messages app. It's an endless string of loading more messages and manually finding images and videos and deleting them. It's arduous.

What's more, Messages continues to add to the problem by using up just as much space in iCloud backups. And unlike the Camera Roll, you can't — and almost certainly don't want to — just disable Messages backup. So, all our photos and videos most likely reside in two places inside iCloud as well. And even if you buy more than the 5GB of free storage Apple provides, it's easy to go over. Then your backups stop working.

I realize it's a complex problem, especially with security and sandboxes, but I just want my iPhone to store only one single copy of any photo or video, and then show that single version in any app that accesses it. If that can't be done, at least not yet, then fast way to remove images and videos from Messages would be the next best thing.

iOS 7 Messages already lets you see all the photos and videos in a conversation in a single list view by tapping on a picture then tapping the list view button. Add pull-to-load older images, the trash button, and the swipe-to-delete gesture there, and at least ditching unwanted messages would be a lot faster.

Let me know if you're experiencing any pain with how messages stores and backs up photos and videos, and how you'd like to see Apple handle it in iOS 8!

Allyson Kazmucha

Editor for iMore, Potter pundit, and the ninja in your iOS

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There are 45 comments. Add yours.

Timelessblur says:

I am going to say as a developer this is an even larger problem. In the app if I need to store a picture for anything it has to be copied into my apps own folder. I can not link to the photo on the device.
I use the camera to take a picture it stories it in the gallery and then copies it to my app.
This has been an issue as customers complain about the app taking up so much room wiht all their random pictures. There is no good way to clear it or just at the very least have it just point to the picture in the gallery.

Steven Hucks says:

I'd just like to see quick reply added to the next ios! It's already on OS X and I can get it if I jailbreak w/ bitesms but I'm through with jail breaking!

Zafla says:

Quick reply would be awesome. I had it jailbroken on a previous iPhone and I was really hoping it would've came with iOS 7.

Viseir says:

If I delete a conversation in messages app does that delete all the picture and audio data sent and received from that particular persons messages? Or is still stored somewhere else?

Sent from the iMore App

Heisenberg says:

I'd rather they implement something like this sooner than iOS8.

In the meantime. iCleaner cleans those pics out of the messages. That's if you're jailbroken. Just gonna have to do for now.

T-Will says:

Oh jeez, I just checked and I have 1GB of data in my Messages app. What is the quickest way to clean this up?

eMason0321 says:

If you have your device jailbroken you can use iCleaner.

Zafla says:

I have a 16GB iPhone 5 and I realized that Messages were taking up a good chunk of space on my phone. After searching some forums I found that using the iBackupBot program was the easiest way for me to clear the tons and tons of pictures/videos on my phone. The steps were copied from user Nickc25 on the Apple Discussions page.

Make a backup in iTunes
open iBackupBot (Google it)
Go to the relevant backup
Click on Multimedia File Manager and click on the other Multimedia files tab
Sort by filename by clicking the Filename tab
Find MediaDomain/Library/SMS/Attachments and highlight all of them, then press delete. You can also click to export to a folder of your choice, if you want to save them that is.
Then go to System Files>MediaDomain>Library>SMS>Attachments
They will be all listed here, highlight them all and press delete
Then just restore that backup using iTunes!
Tadaa! Space recovered, your messages are still there but without the attachments!

You can choose which attachments to keep and which to delete.

But I also agree that in a future update it should be a lot easier for us to find and delete pics/messages or if Apple found a better way to store these attachments. Hope the above helps some of you out.

Gazoobee says:

Or just delete the fucking messages and save the pictures in your camera roll like you are supposed to. This isn't even a "problem" unless you want to also keep every message you get forever.

sangs says:

You could have said it in nicer terms, but I agree with this sentiment.

Ron Miller 85763 says:

I agree that it is very annoying. There should be an option in messages to automatically delete video / photos that are older than a certain # of days / weeks / months. Unlike Mail, Messages is not intended to be kept forever, and if you want to keep a photo or video that was sent, just copy it.

Zach Cline says:

Or you could just delete them yourself ...Its not that difficult

counterculture says:

Omg! I though this was only affecting me, but paid no mind because I simply thought it was due to sending/receiving so many photos from friends and family. I agree. This must be implemented in iOS 8. It's a hassle (like you said) to delete media files in messages, but I think there should just be a way to automatically store to the Camera.app then delete from the Messages.app. Like, as soon as you receive any media file, your iDevice immediately deletes it from Messages.app where you can access the media file via respective app. Which leads me to wonder why the iPhone does not play videos via the Videos.app but instead the camera roll. Weird.

Sent from the iMore App

ReedMA says:

Even if you go through the trouble of clearing all your conversations, ios still holds onto old picture/video data that you CANT delete. I heard it was a glitch in ios6. So I clear all my messages every night and I have done so since I got my iphone 5 new on release day. I have 1.1 gigs of message data that I can't clear out. And it doesn't seem like there is an easy way (other than ibackup bot that I don't exactly trust). You should be able to go into usage -> messages -> clear all data. But there is no such option. That is what I want in ios8. A better way of managing device storage as a whole. Not just in messages. We need a file system. Even an "apple version" that is watered down for mainstream usage.

Sent from the iMore App

sting7k says:

This why I stopped using iCloud backups. There is too much you have to micromanage to stay within that 5GB free limit.

Apple needs to fix the micromanagement issues and at the same time at least give us 10GB.

Beamed via my Nexus 7 from the iMore Android app.

DaViD_BRaNDoN says:

This and the infamous 1.8GB of "Others" data that I have no idea what it is or how to reduce/remove it :(

MusicMan0404 says:

Thankfully someone has brought this subject back to life! This 'bug' has eaten up 11.6GB of my 16GB iPhone 4s in iMessages. I went to a local Apple store and spoke with four different employees and not one was familiar with this issue at all. They had no resolution for it. The popular remedies seem to be some sort of restoring or purchasing a program like iBackupBot. I'm on the verge of 1 GB left of storage. Apple needs to get their act together ...unresolved & unaddressed issue for way too long now.

BP41 says:

Ummm....NO. Apple doesn't need to get its act together. It's you that needs to delete all those messages. If they did anything at all, it should be to not back up the messages app. It's a waste of space. There isn't one good reason all those messages need to be there. Not one.

MusicMan0404 says:

Well, if you have been reading through this thread correctly, you would know that we can't delete the messages. You think I want 11.6GB of messages stored? Obviously not! I have manually deleted each one and it's still all stored to my iPhone. I am a devoted Apple customer, so in all reality they should be supplying us with a resolution because in time I will have no available storage.

corfu67 says:

it is a way to delete them:
download the free app IBACKUPBOT itunes manager to your PC
backup your iphone on itunes
go to ibackupbot find the last backup you did and remove all the media from the backup messages or even the messages
(click on multimedia file manager)
go back to itunes and restore the backup(make sure is the one you removed the media)
that's it......should work for everybody!!!!!

iDisturbia says:

Too much noise here from 16GB owners! First, next time don't be cheap. Add another couple of hundreds and get a 64 GB

Next, IF pics / data are that important, here's a solution:

http://support.apple.com/kb/PH12796

Up to five gigabytes: Free!
10 gigabytes: $20 per year
20 gigabytes: $40 per year
50 gigabytes: $100 per year

Those are per year not day!

And, before anyone turns ON their CAP key and reply .... hey, you guys have to back them up anyway and for 1001 reasons so why not keep them somewhere safer than your iDevices.

Premium1 says:

Uum if messages didn't wrongfully add so much space being taken up those with 16gb would be fine. But you are foolish enough to bend over and take it from apple, rather than them fix the problem....

Sent from the iMore App

BP41 says:

It's not an issue. Delete the damn message thread. Problem solved.

adamwade says:

Oh so folks should give Apple "couple of hundreds" (sic.) to compensate for a problem that is their making? Ghost of Jobs, is that you? 16GB is fine for a phone for most people. I have a 64GB iPad because I like to keep a lot of things on it for easy access, but for a phone it's really not neccesary for most. If it's "too much noise" for you, and storage isn't an issue, just don't read it next time.

That said, I personally don't have this problem because I clear out my messages every day. If someone sends me a photo or video I wish to keep, I save it to my Camera Roll right then and there so I don't have to worry about it and it gets deleted after that. Same if someone sends me a text I need to save (like an address or something) - I just screenshot it. I know folks who keep every text they are sent and for me that just isn't neccesary - while I am sure some folks have good reason, if you are just saving them all for the sake of saving them, it might be time to rethink that a bit and see if it's really worth it.

Allyson Kazmucha says:

That's not really fair. Apples poor storage implementation doesn't make people "cheap"

Sent from the iMore App

BP41 says:

It isn't a poor storage implementation. It's a poor habit from the user by keeping crap unorganized on their iPhone. It's works the way it should. If you don't delete the message, it doesn't delete the media in that thread. There's NO OTHER WAY to do it.

Premium1 says:

That and if you could clear cache without being jailbroken would be welcome. Not sure why apple hasn't implemented this yet to help save space. Messaging is such a space hog.

Sent from the iMore App

Iocane Powder says:

I think this is tied to the underlying issues with the iOS file system, otherwise why would they be storing objects in two places or more? Improve the file system functionality and this will go away. Any hints at better file management in iOS 8?

Premium1 says:

We can only hope they improve the file management system

Sent from the iMore App

eagle63 says:

I agree with some of the commenters who are (rightly) asking why the iOS is storing the same photo twice in the filesystem. But I would argue that the crux of the problem is that iMessage IS NOT THE RIGHT TOOL for sharing photos and videos. Isn't this what Photo Stream is for ?? (or google plus, facebook, instagram, etc) If you're only sending a single picture then I agree it's often easier to just send it via iMessage, but otherwise we should be using Photo Stream.

And it's not just for the sender... I really get annoyed when people send me photos via iMessage. (or email, for that matter) Because if they are photos I want to keep then I have to *do something* with them. If they were shared via Photo Stream then they're already in the right spot.. no need for me to manually move it there, organize it, etc.

Allyson Kazmucha says:

I can't share photo streams with non iOS users. What if I want to send a photo or video to my brother who uses a note 3? Believe it or not lots of people in this world don't even know what photo stream is.

Sent from the iMore App

eagle63 says:

Then use a different photo sharing service? Your last sentence really spells out the problem though: most iOS users have no idea what photo stream is. The vast majority of my friends and family have iPhones, and I've never once witnessed any of them them share photos or videos using photo stream. (what I can't put my finger on is if that's their fault or Apple's??) Instead they send tons of photos using iMessage, which winds up being a big hassle for them and me, for the reasons we've both outlined.

Again, for the quick picture here and there I get why iMessage is useful. But I'll stick to my argument that, largely, "texting" photos makes as little sense as emailing photos. Now, if Apple were to somehow tie photo stream and iMessage together in an elegant and useful way....

Allyson Kazmucha says:

Apple makes a great OS that "just works". It's why I use it. I don't want to fiddle and tinker. Using another file sharing system means I have to get everyone on board with that, which isn't realistic on any level.

Asking for refinements is not a bad thing. I also don't think I should have to find a workaround. Apple's message implementation is better than 99% of what's out there and works seamlessly. Now the file system just needs to handle storage better. That's all.

Sent from the iMore App

Allyson Kazmucha says:

As a side note you are still thinking about the iOS ecosystem. Android and Blackberry users aren't mythical beings and sometimes I want to conveniently send them messages, via text, or in a group message.

Sent from the iMore App

eagle63 says:

You write for iMore, how is it you haven't forced your friends over to Apple devices!? :)

BP41 says:

Still your issue. Delete the thread. Why is this a problem. There is absolutely no reason for someone to save all those threads in messages. It's the same thing as people keeping their inbox full of crap and not deleting it.

Connor Mason says:

I like how Hangouts does it. It makes a private shared photo album between the recipients.

Gazoobee says:

This is not actually a problem that regular people actually "suffer" with, so I'm going to straight out ignore it and forget that I read this article.

Hint: To test whether you are a "regular person" or not read the sentence at the end of this comment to yourself. If you think it's wrong or it makes you angry, then you are not a "normal."

"iOS devices typically have ridiculously large amounts of storage and it's never been a problem for me."

BP41 says:

Dear Apple. Come hold my hand when have to take a piss.

George Jenkinson says:

Hi, I'm brand new to iPhones - my 5s arrived literally minutes ago, so please forgive my very basic question:

When this article refers to 'Messages' do you mean only SMS/texts, or does you also include emails within the meaning?

Hope someone can help me clarify this simple question!

rewNATION says:

i wasn't even aware it does that. i guess i never noticed messages in my usage. i'm pretty good about deleting old conversations anyway, there was only 21MB being used on mine. thanks for the info

GlennRuss says:

Just fix bugs in the system. If my 5S is on the charger, and the screen turned off, iMessage does not alert me until I turn the screen on.(sleep wake)This is an off, and on problem. Sometimes I get alerted in sleep mode, sometimes not. I delete all conversations daily, but are they stored anyway? I would like to see a settings function in iMessage to delete any stored messages,and all data. It should be an easy way on the device itself without having to connect to iTunes, doing a backup, and so on as stated in many forums on cleaning up other stored data. As iMore has stated over, and over, there needs to be a decent file system on the device so you can control, and clean up files.

Sent from the iMore App

rja1966 says:

I was slightly confused after reading the various comments. Some say just delete iMessage history no issue, others say data is still left after deletion. To test this I checked and my messages were taking up 13.8mb, this included text and some recently received images. After deletion of all messages I am left with 1.3mb of saved data. I assume this is just for just the basic app? As I've received many images via iMessage over the last couple of years my conclusion is that all data is actually deleted. I should state that this is on my iPad not Iphone, if they are different when it comes to this issue then I'm sorry for confusing things.

Ipheuria says:

I know my use case is very unique. I only ever have 4 convos in iMessage at a time on my iPhone. My wife's is the only one that never gets deleted. All the others once I get the point I delete them. However Apple doesn't have a good track record with this kind of thing. On the Mac iPhoto does more or less the same thing. It creates a big database of the pictures you put into the app. So you end up with the actual space the pictures use. Then a database which is usually about the same size. So 2GBs of pictures uses 4GBs of space. I agree once pictures are saved they should disappear from the conversation or just become aliases of the original. Aliases introduce the issue of what happens if the user deletes the original. The best solution to me is for iMessages to automatically save the picture to the camera roll.

Sent from the iMore App

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