What To Do When Your iPhone or iPad Runs Out of Space

iphone storage almost full

Run out of space and your iPhone will inform you your storage is almost full. You won’t be able to install new apps, take photos, sync media files, install operating system updates, or do anything else that requires space until you make some.

Remove apps, media files, and other data you don’t use to free up space. Photos can also use a lot of space, so getting them off your iPhone and storing them elsewhere will help. And, for large system software updates, you can just use iTunes. You don’t need a lot of free space.

Free Up Space Used by Apps and Media Files

Check what exactly is using up your storage space. Open the Settings app, tap the General category, tap Usage, and tap Manage Storage. You’ll see a list of what exactly is using storage on your iPhone or iPad, sorted by app.

Importantly, this list doesn’t distinguish between apps and their content. For example, if you have a lot of space used by the “Videos,” “Music,” “Podcasts,” or “Photos” apps, that’s all the videos, music, podcasts, or photos on your phone. On the other hand, if you have a lot of space used by a single game, that space is used by the game itself. Some apps can use a lot of space for their downloaded data — for example, a service like Spotify can use gigabytes of data if you’ve stored a lot of music for listening offline.

Tap through the options here to free up space. Look for apps you don’t use, especially larger ones, and delete them. Go through your synced media files — tap built-in apps like Videos, Music, Podcasts, or other ones — and delete files you no longer need if you have a lot of synced media. If you have an app with a large amount of “Documents & Data,” consider clearing it to free up space. Follow our guide to freeing up space on an iPhone or iPad for more tips.

Move Your Photos to the Cloud (or Your Computer)

As camera technology improves, photos have become larger and higher-resolution, using more and more space. Take enough photos and you’ll find them using a lot of storage space on your iPhone — potentially even the majority of its space if you have a small 8 GB or 16 GB iPhone.

Apple’s new iCloud Photo Library feature can help with this. Activate iCloud Photo Library and your photos will be stored on Apple’s servers. You can configure iCloud Photo Library to store the higher-resolution copies on Apple’s servers and lower-resolution copies on your phone. When you look at a photo, the high-resolution copy will be fetched from Apple’s servers and displayed on your phone. You can also then access all your photos from Apple’s servers using the Photos app built into Mac OS X or the Photos web app at iCloud.com.

Open the Settings app, tap iCloud, and tap Photos to access these settings. Ensure iCloud Photo Library is on and tell it to “Optimize iPhone Storage.” The larger originals will be stored on iCloud’s servers, and smaller copies will be cached on your iPhone.

The one downside here is the price of storage. Apple only gives you 5 GB of total iCloud storage space that has to contain all your photos in addition to iCloud backups and other synced data. You can buy more — 20 GB for $0.99 per month or 200 GB for $3.99 per month, for example. Head to Settings > iCloud > Storage > Buy More Storage to buy more.

You could also use a different service to automatically upload and store your photos. For example, Dropbox, Google+ Photos, Microsoft’s OneDrive, and Yahoo!’s Flickr can all automatically upload photos you take to their servers. These services also offer more free storage space and cheaper storage plans than iCloud. Flickr offers up to 1 TB of photo storage for free, for example. After uploading your photos to such a service, you can delete them from your phone to free up space.

There’s always the option of doing it yourself, too. Connect your iPhone to your computer and transfer your photos to your own computer, and then delete them from your iPhone afterwards to free up space. Make sure you have a backup of your important photos if you do this.

Install System Software Updates Without Free Space

If you don’t have enough free space, you may not be able to install updates for your iPhone or iPad’s operating system using the normal “over-the-air (OTA) update” procedure. Navigate to Settings > General > Software Update and you may be informed your iPhone or iPad doesn’t have enough space available to perform the update. This is an issue on severely storage-constrained devices like 8 GB and even 16 GB iPhones.

Rather than frantically deleting things to make space the next time a massive 5+ GB update arrives for your 8 GB iPhone, use iTunes instead. Plug your iPhone or iPad into a PC or Mac with iTunes installed, open iTunes, and select the device. Click “Check for Update” and iTunes will download and install the update on your device without requiring a massive amount of free space. You won’t have to remove anything to make room.


iPhones don’t support microSD cards for storage expansion. The amount of storage that comes in your iPhone is all you’re going to get. If you find you’re always struggling with not enough free space on your iPhone or iPad, be sure to get a larger one next time. The base models — 8 GB and 16 GB, depending on the type of iPhone you’re buying — have an extremely limited amount of space. It’s usually a good idea to step up and buy the more expensive models with a bit more storage, whether you’re talking about an iPhone or a laptop.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 05/23/15
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