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How To Recover a Lot of Space on Your iPhone Fast

David Pogue

It was a logical mistake. You didn’t imagine you’d ever fill up 32 or 64 gigabytes of storage, so you saved some money by buying an iPhone with less. And now you can’t even take a video or a photo, because your phone says it’s full. You’re frozen out until you have the time and expertise to delete stuff.

But which stuff? You probably know that the biggest space hogs on your phone are likely your video files. Heck, deleting just one downloaded movie or TV show could solve your storage crunch instantly. But apps, photos, and music files also add up.

Fortunately, iOS 7 makes it very easy to see what’s eating up your space — and to delete the fattest culprits to make the most room with the least effort. Here’s where you start: Open Settings, then tap General, then Usage, then wait a minute or two for the list of apps to appear.

How To Recover a Lot of Space on Your iPhone Fast

The list shows what’s using up your space, biggest items first. By tapping the > button at the right edge, you can see the details and, in many cases, make some deletions on the spot.

Delete movies and TV shows
Tap Videos to see a list like the one shown here at left:

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There are all the TV shows, movies, and podcasts you’ve bought or downloaded. Tap Edit to get red delete buttons beside their names (above, right), so that you can free up some space right now.

Photos and camera
This list shows how much space your Camera videos and photos take up, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t let you delete them individually. To purge your photos, the quickest method is to hook up to iTunes, import the photos, and take advantage of the option to delete the freshly imported photos from the phone.

Turning off your Photo Stream can give you back an instant gigabyte, too. (In Settings, tap iCloud, then turn off Photos.)

Apps
The Usage list presents a long list of apps, biggest listed first. There’s a Delete App button for each one. 

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Delete ‘other’ items
Not everything appears in the Usage list, ready to delete.

You know the colored graph of what’s on your phone that shows up in iTunes?

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Often, the biggest item here is the mysterious Other category. What is that stuff? It’s caches (Internet data stored on the phone to make repeated visits faster), backups, partial downloads, and data from iOS 7’s built-in apps — all your text messages and email, for example. Here’s how you clean them out:

Delete the web browser cache. The phone saves web pages into its own memory so that they’ll appear faster the next time you try to visit them. If you’ve had your iPhone awhile, those cache files can really add up. Open Settings; tap Safari; tap Clear History and Clear Cookies and Data. You may get a speed boost as a side effect.

Delete text messages. In the Messages app, you can delete individual texts or entire conversations; because they frequently include photo, audio, or video files, you can reclaim a lot of space.

Delete email attachments. Files downloaded with your email take up a lot of space, too. The solution is to delete the email account (open Settings, then Mail, Contacts, Calendar, then the account name; scroll down and tap Delete Account) — and then add it again. Make sure you know your email passwords before you do this! 

In the process, you’ll vaporize all the attachment files and message caches that you’ve ever downloaded and opened on your phone. When you add the account back again, those files will still be online, ready to download — but only when you need them. (This trick works for most account types — but not for POP3 accounts.)

Delete voice memos, music files, and ebooks. Audio files and iBooks eat up a lot of space, too. Consider purging the recordings, books, and songs you can do without (from within the Voice Memos, iBooks, and Music apps).

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Excerpted with permission from David Pogue’s “iPhone: The Missing Manual,” Seventh Edition from O’Reilly Media.