Storage shortage is a reality for many iPhone owners: whether the culprit is apps, music or (most commonly) photos and videos, most of us have run out of space at some key moment. And you can't upgrade an iPhone's internal storage.
But don't worry: help is at hand. In this article we share our top tips for managing the storage available on your iPhone, getting the most out of every last megabyte and freeing up space for new apps and photos.
As an aside, note that even though you can't upgrade the internal storage, you can supplement an iPhone's capacity with external storage accessories; it's also worth reading our tips on how to increase iPhone storage. Plus: don't miss our top iOS tips article, and if you're struggling with battery life on your iPhone, read our top tips for getting more battery life from your iPhone.
Apple introduced a new file storage system as part of iOS 10.3, released in March 2017. It's not exactly a sexy feature, but you may find it frees up a bunch of space on your device: some claim that the update provided an extra 7.8GB of storage without deleting anything.
If you're still running an earlier version of iOS, open the Settings app and go to General > Software Update and follow the update instructions. (We cover this in depth here: how to update iOS on iPhone.)
Before doing this you may want to go to Settings > General > Storage & iCloud Usage > Manage Storage and take a screenshot, so you can do a before and after comparison.
Delete apps you don't need
This is an obvious and (mostly) straightforward place to start. There are bound to be apps you downloaded and only used once, or have replaced with something better. Ditch them. By deleting a few apps you could free up as much as 500MB with very little effort.
To delete an app from the Home screen, tap and hold on its icon and wait for it (and the other icons too) to start jiggling about - this means you're in Edit Mode. Then tap on the X in the left corner to delete the app. (Edit Mode also allows you to drag app icons into new positions on the screen.)
Stocks, Game Center and other hard-to-delete apps
There are some apps that aren't so easy to delete because Apple ships the phone with them pre-installed - this includes Stocks, Game Center, Notes, Calendar and various other default apps. In the past, Apple has prevented iPhone and iPad owners from deleting these apps from their devices.
The good news is that since the launch of iOS 10 you've been able to delete some of the preinstalled apps, such as Stocks, FaceTime and Mail. Bear in mind, however, that you're really hiding the app rather than deleting it fully. The data associated with that app will be deleted, so you'll gain a bit of space, but the app itself will remain.
And not all apps are included in this feature. Tips, Maps, Watch and Weather can be removed, for example; Safari, Phone and Messages cannot.
For more on all this, read our complete guide: How to delete, remove or hide any iPhone or iPad app.
Find out which apps are taking up most space
A handy way of finding and deleting the apps that are taking up the most space is to go to Settings > General > Storage & iCloud Usage, then tap Manage Storage in the first section (STORAGE, rather than ICLOUD). Wait for the apps to appear under storage (it can take a few seconds for them to appear).
Scroll through the list and be brutal. You will find the biggest space hogs at the top - probably your Photos and Music apps (the figure includes media that the app stores/organises as well as the app itself), but your Messages app may be there too if you receive a lot of text messages with images in them.
If an app you rarely use is taking up 300MB of space then delete it - you can always download it again for free if you want to. Once you have bought something it's tied to your Apple ID so Apple knows you own it.
Delete app data you don't need
To look deeper into the storage space being taken up by apps, look again at Settings > General > Storage & iCloud Usage > Manage Storage and click on the arrow beside one of the apps listed there. This way you can see how much data is used by the app itself, and how much additional space is being used by documents and data.
For example, our Pages app has 4.9MB of data; with a little tidying up we could ensure that those documents saved on the iPhone were moved to the Cloud where we have a lot more space.
Are there any apps there that have data associated with them that you no longer need on your iPhone? For example, the iPlayer app is 46MB, but we have 512MB of data associated with it, which suggests we have downloaded some programs at some point that are still lurking inside the app.
Go to the iPlayer app and delete them.
How to delete lots of messages at once
While we're clearing out documents & data, here's another quick win: delete old messages from your iPhone. With less than a minute's work we reduced the space taken by messages from 2.2GB to just 112MB.
Deleting messages might sound like a long-winded process, but you don't need to do this individually. You can kill them quickly by telling iOS to purge any messages that have been on the device for longer than a stipulated period - anything older than 30 days, or anything more than a year old. You do this via Settings > Messages > Message History > Keep Messages, select a time parameter, then click Delete.
We look at this process in more detail in a separate article: How to delete all old messages from iPhone.
But we recommend that you check first that you won't be deleting anything precious. (Should that happen, read How to recover deleted text messages on your iPhone).
There are other ways to free up iMessage storage without deleting all your messages that are older than one year. We'll look at one of these next.
Delete iMessage images
If you don't want to mass-delete messages, one way to free up space is to just delete the space-hogging images and other media associated with iMessages; although unfortunately it's no longer possible to delete all the images from a conversation in one go.
Open a conversation, then tap and hold an image within the thread. You'll see the reaction icons - heart, thumbs up, ha ha and so on - above the image, but at the bottom there's a further menu. Tap More, and you'll see little tick-circles next to each message and image. (The one you tapped and held will have this pre-ticked.)
You can now select as many images (or other messages) as you wish, then tap the bin icon at the bottom left to delete them. There's also a Delete All option at the top left, but this deletes the entire conversation, text and image posts alike.
It's still possible to see all the images and attachments from a conversation by tapping the I button at the top right and then selecting either Images or Attachments, but as far as we are aware it's currently impossible to delete anything from this menu.
The movie rental trick
This tip can create space on your iPhone (from 1/2MB to over 1GB sometimes) using magic. Not really, but we're not quite sure how it's done, only that it works if your iPhone is almost at maximum capacity. And no, your iPhone doesn't need to be jailbroken, nor does it void the warranty.
Before we begin, head to Settings > General > About and make a note of how much storage you have.
Then, head to the iTunes Store app and find a large title - we recommend The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers at a whopping 6.83GB. Once you've found a suitable movie, tap the Rent button twice (don't worry, you won't actually end up renting it) and dismiss the popup informing you that there's not enough space to download the movie.
Now, head back to the About section of the Settings menu and take a look at your available storage. If all has gone well, you should see a difference of a few hundred megabytes, possibly more. While it won't work for everybody, users on reddit report that following the steps several times allowed them to keep freeing up more storage.
We're not quite sure what Apple is deleting when it does this, as it's not apps, photos or other important data - instead, we assume that it'll be clearing out caches and other areas that make up the "Other" section on your iOS storage breakdown.
Turn off Photo Stream
If you have Photo Stream turned on you will see photos you have taken on your iPhone or iPad, and those you have uploaded to your Mac from your camera. These images aren't full res, but are still likely to take up a lot of space on your iPhone. If you could really do with that extra space then turn off Photo Stream.
Go to Settings > Photos & Camera and deselect Upload to My Photo Stream. This will delete your Photo Stream from your iPhone.
Unfortunately, it also means that your iPhone photos are no longer uploaded to your Photo Stream on your other devices. You can always turn it back on again after the storage issue has passed.
Don't join other people's Photo Streams
You can create and share photo streams with other people. This is a nice way to share images of events you attended with friends, or pictures of grandchildren with grandparents, but beware that if you join someone else's photo stream it may quickly fill up your iPhone.
Make sure you have iCloud Photo Sharing turned off in Settings > Photos & Camera.
If you have some images in an album you are sharing in iCloud Photo Sharing that you don't want to appear on your iPhone you can delete them. Go to the top of those images and click on the name of that particular album to see the whole album.
Next click on Select, and select the items you want to delete (you don't have to tap on each if there are a lot, you can just swipe your finger around the screen to select them).
Once you have done so, tap on Delete XX Photos. Warning: this will delete the photos from the subscribers devices too, so if you think that might upset them don't do it!
Sign up for iTunes Match
You don't have to have every iTunes track you could ever possibly need to listen to on your iPhone. If you sign up for iTunes Match (for £21.99 a year) you will have every track you own available to you via the cloud. Therefore you can delete your music from your iPhone knowing that every song you may wish to listen to is but a download away. Here's how to sign up for iTunes Match.
Once you have signed up for Apple's service, all your music on all your Apple devices will be uploaded to iCloud (even tracks you have imported from CD). This means that you can download any track you fancy listening to on your iPhone whenever the mood takes you.
You can download a track or a whole album, or a whole playlist. Just click on the iCloud download icon.
If you then want to delete the track from your iPhone, just swipe left on it, to delete. It will still be available to download from iCloud another time.
Beware of iCloud Photo Library
There is also iCloud Photo Library, which lets you automatically upload and store your entire library in iCloud to access photos and videos on all your devices.
This might sound like the solution to your problems if you have limited space on your iPhone or iPad, but hold your horses!
The problem with iCloud Photo Library is that it will store all your images taken on all your devices on your iPhone (and all your other devices). These are stored in a reduced file size, but they are still going to be taking up space on your iPhone.
So rather than solving your problem you are in fact adding to it!
If you are looking for a way to back up the images on your iPhone iCloud Photo Library is not it.
We have this article on backing up your Apple photo library and we recommend you read that for tips.
Don't keep both photos when using HDR, Portrait modes
Your phone can use an HDR mode (that's High Dynamic Range) to capture better photos when the image would include bright lights and shadow.
You can choose for your iPhone to keep the normal photo, which is handy if you have an older iPhone, which might be a bit hit and miss with HDR mode due to the slower camera.
However, in newer iPhones we think HDR works well enough for you to be confident that the image you take will be better than it would be without HDR.
So make sure that you aren't keeping the normal photo - go to Settings > Photos & Camera and deselect Keep Normal Photo.
The same applies to the new Portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus. If you have an iPhone 7 Plus may be enjoying taking photos with the new Portrait mode, which blurs the background to give results akin to an SLR camera, but you will find that the phone stores two versions of this image - one with and one without the effect.
If you are happy to just keep the Portrait version, then deselect this option in Settings > Photos & Camera.
Remove iBooks you aren't reading
Do you have any iBooks downloaded on your iPhone? Do you need them to be there? If you delete them they will still be available in iCloud to download again, so why not save yourself a few MB by removing the novel you are reading on your iPad from your iPhone.
You can choose to Delete This Copy, rather than delete it from all your devices.
Also, check Settings > iTunes & App Store and stop Automatic Downloads of iBooks when you buy them on other devices.
Record video at a lower resolution
Newer iPhones offer you the option to reduce the quality of the videos you record.
As the screen shot shows, a minute of video can take 350MB of space on your iPhone if you record it at 4K, so you probably won't want to be doing that.
The iPhone should default to 1080p HD at 30 fps, but you could reduce space further by recording at 720p HD, just 60MB for a minute, rather than 130MB.
You can change the settings in Settings > Photos & Camera > Record Video
Check your photo-editing apps
There are photo editing features in Photos, but you may use separate apps for photo editing. Those apps could have some old images lurking within that you could delete.
We had 13.9MB worth of data in Camera+ so we loaded up the app and deleted the images in our Lightbox that we no longer needed - after all, we had already saved those ones we had edited to our camera roll.
Spring-clean your Notes
We make a lot of notes in the Notes app on our iPhone. You may be wondering how much space you could save by deleting those we no longer need.
Notes appear in the Storage Usage list from Settings > General > Storage & iCloud Usage. But only under the iCloud section - you might think that this is because your Notes are stored in iCloud, after all they sync across all of your devices.
Unfortunately that isn't the case (or fortunately - after all, if the Note was in the cloud you wouldn't be able to read it if you were off line).
To see how much iCloud storage is given over to your Notes go to the Documents & Data section in the iCloud storage summary, in our case in our case we had 9.3MB of Documents & Data in Notes.
To be honest this isn't a massive number and it's unlikely to make a huge difference to you if you do delete your Notes. You may find your Notes is larger if you use it to store attachments and other media.
When we deleted a decent selection of Notes, our phone memory didn't change, so we concluded that for the amount of effort it's not really worth deleting individual Notes, but it may make a bit of a difference in desperate times.
Delete photos you don't need
Our Camera Roll is taking up 867MB of space on our iPhone. That's 150 photos, 3 panoramas, and 6 videos. If we hadn't turned off Photo Stream we could easily copy these images on to our Mac (we'll discuss various ways to automatically back up images on the next slide).
However, it is likely that you have images on your iPhone that you had no desire to keep. Perhaps, like us, you often take screen shots of train times when you are commuting. If you want to delete screenshots from your phone you can do so really easily by opening the Photos app and going to Albums > Screenshots > Select > Select All (assuming you want to delete the lot, otherwise just select the ones you wish to delete).
Or you take a ton of photos just to get the perfect shot. There is no need to keep these shots. We try to get into the habit of deleting these extra shots close to the time we take them, or at least favouriting one of the collection so we can easily go back and delete lots at a later date.
Similarly, if you've been using Burst Mode you may have hundreds of identical images you really don't need taking up space on your iPhone.
To remove extra shots from Burst Mode find the Bursts folder, tap on the image shown, choose Select, select the image (or images) you wish to keep, tap Done, and then choose Keep only 1 Favourite.
Turn off Burst Mode
Speaking of Burst Mode...
When you're taking a photo, you can hold down the shutter for slightly longer than normal and the camera will take a series of rapid shots. This is Burst mode. It's great for getting the absolute best action shot, but it does make for a lot of photos to get rid of afterwards, and is easy to activate by mistake.
Unfortunately it's not possible at present to turn off Burst Mode. This has frustrated a lot of people - some complain that their photos are now blurry because they have less control of the shutter, others find that burst mode quickly fills up the storage they have available.
We suggest that rather than tapping on the shutter button on the screen you use the volume control buttons on the side of your phone to take the photo, as it's easier to do a single tap that way.
Use Photo Stream to back up photos
We told you to turn off Photo Stream a few slides ago, but it might be the case that 1GB of Photo Stream images is worth the sacrifice for being able to easily back up the photos you take on your iPhone. Go to Settings > Photos & Camera and turn My Photo Stream on using the slider.
Now, as long as you have on Wi-Fi access, every photo you take will appear in your Photo Stream on your iPhone and on any of your other devices you have set up to receive your Photo Stream. (When you turn it on the phone will upload the last 1,000 images, it's likely to take a few minutes).
Now that the photos you are taking are appearing in your Photo Stream you can delete them from your Camera Roll. They will still be available to download on your other devices (at least until you have taken another 1,000 photos, pushing that one out of your allocated iCloud storage).
When you want to download the image to your Mac open the Photos app there and click on iCloud. You may need to wait for a moment while the Photo Stream updates itself, depending on how often you access the photo library on your Mac. Once the image you want appears, right click and choose Import.
You can also save the image to your iPad by tapping Select picking that image, and then tapping Add To and selecting an Album to add it to.
You can delete all the photos from your phone now without worrying about them being lost forever now.
Get a bit of space for a photograph
Sometimes you may be confronted with a photo opportunity where in order to capture the moment you really don't have time to delete things from your iPhone.
Your camera app may be saying that you do not have enough space to take more photos, but there may still be a way.
If you open another of your camera applications and use the camera through that you may be able to take a few shots that you wouldn't be able to take otherwise. This is because some apps have access to memory that your camera app might not have. Try it, you never know.
Erase and restore your iPhone
The 'Other' section of your iOS Storage breakdown can be frustrating, especially when you've got very little space left on your iPhone for your favourite apps, photos and music. However, there is one thing that can be done to remove the Other section, which is usually filled with Safari bookmarks, text attachments and calendar entries, and that is to wipe and restore your iPhone.
Make sure you back up your iPhone first, then head to Settings > General > Reset > Erase all content and settings to erase your iPhone and wipe the 'other' section from the face of the Earth, then restore it from your most recent backup during the initial setup.
While there may still be a small Other section on your iPhone, it shouldn't be as big as originally and should offer a few hundred MB of extra storage.
For more information, take a look at our guide: How to delete and restore iPhone data
Optimise storage using iMyFone Umate
As you've probably guessed by now, there are many ways to expand the storage of your iPhone when you start running low, but some methods may take quite a long time. However, there are a myriad of third-party apps available that'll make the process simpler and quicker. One of those apps is iMyFone Umate, an app for Mac and Windows that can free up a huge amount of space on your iPhone.
Simply plug your iPhone in, run the initial scan and the app will tell you how much free space you could potentially gain by clearing out temporary files, junk files, backing up and deleting photos, deleting large files and lastly, showcasing your entire app collection in one place for easy deletion of multiple apps.
Interestingly, the app offers the ability to compress your photos instead of completely deleting them. It backs the original photos up to your Mac or PC, then will compress your entire library to free up extra space (up to 75 percent according to the company).
You can grab a trial of iMyFone Umate for free, or you can pay $19.95 (around £15) for the full app.