Apple’s iOS Apps are Bloated; and How Many Gigs Do You Get on a 16 GB iOS Device?

I have Apple’s Numbers on my iPhone; I use it because there are a few spreadsheets I maintain to track expenses, and it’s quite practical to have access to them on my mobile device. It takes up 335.9 MB.

I don’t make many videos, but if I did, I might want to use iMovie: it takes up 613.3 MB. And if I were a musician, I might want to have Garage Band on my iPad; it’s 594.1 MB.

It’s quite astounding how much space these apps take up; with the exception of rich-media apps, and the occasional game, they are the largest apps in my iTunes library.

I did an experiment. I have an original iPad mini, and I hadn’t yet gotten around to updating it to iOS 8 (in part because the over-the-air updater told me it needed 4.9 GB in free space, and it’s only a 16 GB device, and I didn’t have enough free space). I loaded it with only iOS 8 and Apple’s apps. I installed all of Apple’s apps: the iWork apps, iMovie, Garage Band, Find My iPhone, Remote, etc.

Here are the default apps, which are installed as part of iOS, and which you cannot remove:


And Apple prompts you to install the rest of their apps (some are pre-installed):


First, those “16 GB” or the iPad mini are nothing of the kind. The real capacity of the iPad is less than 13 GB:

Ember 4.png

Now, this 13 GB figure may be the space available after iOS is installed; but that’s not at all clear, either from iTunes, or from the device itself.

Apple does give some explanation of the storage trickery, about the way the calculate GB:

“When you view the storage capacity of your iPod, iPhone, iPad, or other electronic devices within its operating system, the capacity is reported using the the binary system (base 2) of measurement. In binary, 1 GB is calculated as 1,073,741,824 bytes.

“For example: The way decimal and binary numeral systems measure a GB is what causes a 32 GB storage device to appear as approximately 28 GB when detailed by its operating system, even though the storage device still has 32 billion bytes (not 28 billion bytes), as reported.”

So, is a 32 GB device really a 28 GB device?

This is all the more confusing because, on Macs, they don’t use the same system; back when OS X 10.6 came out, they switched away from the deceptive GB system and went to a real system. So, on my iMac, the 256 GB SSD shows as 251 GB (which takes into account some space, which Apple explains in the above document, for things like the EFI partition, restore partition, etc.)

All of Apple’s apps take up more than 3 GB:


In the end, considering that the iPad shows 1.3 GB of unusable, and unreadable, “Other” space, here’s what’s left, just over 8 GB of free space:

Ember 2

There are several lessons here. First, Apple’s apps take up a lot of space. Installing all of them takes up more than 3 GB out of 13 GB, or 23% of the available space; and that doesn’t count the pesky “Other” space that you can never reclaim completely.

People have pointed out how little free space is available on Android devices; maybe they should do the same for Apple devices. Yes, I chose to install all of Apple’s apps, and I didn’t have to, but, still, Apple prompts you to do this when you set up your device. (And, if I recall correctly, many of them are pre-installed on new iOS devices, though they may not be on 16 GB devices.)

Second, Apple should simply not sell 16 GB devices any more. If, after installing just the basics, there’s only half the advertised space available (I know, I already lost a couple of GB because of marketing), then users can’t put a lot of content on them. Many won’t care, but once you start downloading a few games, you get into a situation where there’s not enough room to apply updates, because they need so much free space. (And, as a commenter pointed out below, Apple still sells the iPhone 5c with only 8 GB; imagine the results if I tried this on one of those devices.)

Finally, the whole thing with advertising a capacity that isn’t realistic – the bit about selling a 16 GB iPad that really only has 13 GB available (after iOS is installed) – is deceptive. I know it’s, in part, because Apple treats bytes in two ways; one as 1024 bits and another as 1000 bits, but you shouldn’t buy a device and take it home and see that it has less capacity than you expect, even if you take into account the size of iOS (and it’s hard to find out how much space iOS actually takes up).

P.S.: Dave Mark commented on The Loop:

“to me, it’s photos and media storage that bring me to my device limit, much more so than games.”

Yes, I didn’t even go there. I wanted to simply look at apps, before a user starts adding music, photos or anything else.