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:

default-apps.png

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

additional-apps.png

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:

Ember.png

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.

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

  1. I’m surprised that no one has filed a lawsuit with regard to the 16GB vs. actually 13GB issue. I just saw where Apple was ruled against in a ridiculous text message migration from iOS to Android case (iMessage Purgatory). The whole labeled vs. actual storage capacity thing dates back to the iPod nano in 2005 for me. The takeaway here is that more is better, and more than that is even better… I’ve heard you speak about the whole “why bother selling a 16GB device” a few times. All I can say is that the pricing nearly forces you to buy a larger device, but those who aren’t in the know might buy the 16GB capacity. Apple probably should just drop it altogether. Thanks for the informative article Kirk

  2. YeP, I agree. I’ve never bought less than 32GB but family and friends have, against my advice, and regret doing so. The “advertising” of capacity is unreal at best, deceptive at worst. My issue is why charge a premium for memory storage? I would have thought it would be to Apples sales benefit to lower consumer pricing, making hardware more affordable and attractive. This is why I can’t understand the premium on SSD and RAM in Mac computers. You, and others have pointed this out with the RAM add on for the Retina iMac and have gone to 3rd party suppliers. If Apple sold it closer to cost one would be far more likely to buy direct from them, surely! Anyway, 16GB is just not enough storage any more. Why iWork/iLife apps are so big is out of my ken.

    • The first iPads I bought were 16 GB, because I don’t put much on them. I don’t sync much music, if any, and only put the occasional video on them. But I started buying 32 GB iPads with the first iPad Air, because so many apps I was reviewing (apps about music, literature, etc.) were over 1 GB each. There was one point where I barely had enough room to store all the apps I was looking at for an article on the iPad.

      My 32 GB iPad is still about half empty now. But if I were to go on a trip, and wanted to put some videos on it, it would certainly fill up quickly.

    • You folks are talking foolishly or maybe you just don’t understand how operating systems work.. Whenever an OS is installed to any device, even a PC, there is always drive size loss, or storage loss as you folks like to call it. It has been that way since the beginning of Apple’s OS’s and PC’s dos thru windows 10. The area that holds partition information and how to work the products must be stored somewhere, don’t you get it. If you want a full amount of storage, just buy the Iphone or PC and delete the operating system and partition information, you will then have all 16gb or 32gb and a phone that does nothing. Maybe you want a full 16gb phone for a paper weight

  3. Even more ridiculous is that Apple sells the entry-level iPhone 5c with only 8 GB of storage. Doing the same experiment as you did, one would be left with very, very little space.

    Cheers,
    Rick

  4. “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.”

    Operating from some pretty basic deductions, I think it’s quite clear that the 13 GB figure is space available after the OS is installed, even if this is not explicitly spelled out.

    And frankly, I don’t see any problem with this whatsoever. It follows the long-standing practice of both PC’s and mobile device from all manufacturers for all of history.

    When you buy a Mac, you don’t complain that free space is less than advertised because system software is installed, and I don’t see why mobile devices should be any different.

    (I don’t normally defend Apple these days, but there’s always an exception.)

    Now, many folks have noted that continuing to sell 16 GB iOS devices at this late date in time is kinda idiotic, in that customers who think any Apple device configuration will, at least, be ‘good enough’ are going to be disappointed, thus hurting the brand. But that’s a different topic…

    —–

    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.

    Good god, man. Are you a newbie? Why on earth would you put your personal data in an Apple proprietary file format, when folks who do so have been burnt over and over and over, when Apple changes file formats and/or apps, with little or no migration path?

    On the spreadsheet front alone, this has happened at least twice in just the past decade.

    Microsoft application software is obviously not without flaws, but at least you can count on having future access to your personal data. That ought to be a wise user’s top priority.

    • When you buy a Mac, there’s no difference between the advertised space and the real space you see in the Finder. Yes, you know the OS is going to take up a few GB; but I think the smallest storage device Apple sells these days is 128 GB, so the OS is taking up about 5% of the space, at most.

      • Sure. But I see this purely as a reason why Apple shouldn’t be shipping only 16 GB on their basic iOS devices in this day and age, a complaint made by many after the latest hardware release.

        Again, the concept of not advertising the space remaining on the device after the OS gobbles up its chunk really is universal and long-standing. Any manufacturer changing this after 30 years of industry-wide precedent would be kinda startling.

    • Wish that were true! Word is notorious at not being able to handle old formats properly–missing information, losing graphs, etc. In fact, it will even refuse to open many older formats.

      Also, chuckled over this:

      “And frankly, I don’t see any problem with this whatsoever. It follows the long-standing practice of both PC’s and mobile device from all manufacturers for all of history.”

      So, if they’ve mis-represented things forever and everyone does it, then it’s OK and stop complaining! Sorry, but that doesn’t wash. A few years back manufacturers were taken to task for mis-representing the display size of monitors; same issue applies here. And as the writer points out, iOS devices represent their storage capacities on a different basis than the Macs do (which returned to a more proper method).

  5. “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.”

    I want to clarify here, because it seems like you misundertand how memory is measured in computers.

    To any computer scientist since the dawn of times, the prefix Giga stands for 2^30. In computers, everything is done in powers of two so this is natural.

    Later, Hard Drive manufacturers started using 10^9 to mean Giga. Why? probably because it makes the same hard drive appear a little larger when spec’ed on paper. But most computer scientists would probably argue that the former is the more correct one and this is still how programmers measure memory in programs, and how RAM is measured. It makes absolute sense inside a computer.

    Even later, Apple switched how OS X reports the sizes to use the Hard Drive manufacturer convention. The most likely reason is that the rest of the industry switched to that convention so people comparing Mac systems against other systems, or people installing third party hard drives in their Macs were being confused.

    So, if one of the two systems is misleading, it would be the one used now. But both are just as real and the deceptive one would be the 10^9 standard.

  6. Follow the money. Do you really think Apple —and their competitors— placed their big bets on Cloud infrastructure in order to have “it” sit idle?

    Understand the human inclination to follow the path of least resistance. So now customers are being streamed (herded?) to park their data somewhere within the grasp and purview of those deemed to ‘know better’.

    To save a few bucks, consumers take advantage of what currently appears to be a less expensive alternative like cloud services, yet disregard the far greater (albeit hidden) cost of being squeezed out of self control of their own content.


    Here’s an alternative view:
    Despite the code bloat that is required to make apps Universal, this limiting factor of installing minimal memory is a deliberate effort to encourage an accelerated upgrade cycle, similar to the bi-annual iPhone schedule that so many people feel the need to follow. How else to explain the trend to soldered RAM in the Mac mini, or sealed cases which dictate that only Genii are allowed to swap out your battery?

    Faced with the cost and inconvenience, lots of folks will simply sigh, bite the bullet and replace the “old” unit.

    Not very environmentally friendly, I daresay.
    But profitable? Yes.

    Follow the money.

    • I think that Apple doesn’t care too much about the Mac mini, hence not giving many upgrade options. It’s been impossible to upgrade RAM in laptops for years. But the problem with the low storage amounts is that, as entry level models, they don’t make sense. Users will find them problematic, as seen when so many people couldn’t update to iOS 8. I’d think that the money would be better churned if users were satisfied.

  7. Obviously the 16 GB iPhone or iPad are only for those people who will have little need to use many apps or use large apps. They are thin clients.

    And if any complain about the price of the higher storage iPhones, then they simply should buy an Android instead because they are too poor to be Apple customers.

    Anyone smart enough should realize that they should always get the largest capacity iPhone or iPad – 128 GB. Always get the best. And if you can’t afford it, get a better job or two.

  8. So, some of you are upset with buying a small amount of storage and want to do big things with it, any thoughts on buying the right amount of storage for what you want? Why take away choice for those who don’t actually want to use a lot of apps and for whom price is important?

    Calling apps “bloated” is derisive and unsubstantiated. How do they compare against other apps that perform similar functions, and on other platforms. Oh, similar in size? The not bloated.

    • First, this was an experiment to see the difference between what Apple offers to customers, and what they they prompt customers to install. For someone new to iOS, choosing the cheaper model may be problematic, and they wouldn’t know in advance. Heck, Apple still sells the 8 GB 5c.

      Second, you can’t compare mobile apps to apps on different platforms where space is not at a premium.

    • Actually, they are incredibly large vs. other similar apps under iOS. Now, why that is, is another question.

  9. The iPhone 5c with 8GB is so ridiculous it’s practically a crime. A friend of mine recently bought an iPhone 6 Plus 16GB and inside I was biting my tongue like “Dude… WTF?”. I felt sorry for him.

    I’ve got an iPhone 5 with 64GB and I hit the Storage Full alert every single day for the past 7 months. Obviously I’m not a typical user though.

    I was told to get the phone 1 step larger than what you think you’ll need, and I’ve been glad I’ve done so every time I’ve bought an iPhone. I don’t know anyone who bought the bigger phone and then said “Wow you know what, 2 years have gone by and I still haven’t even filled this phone up past 50%. I should’ve gotten the cheaper one.”…

    Nevertheless, I think it’s a red herring in this article to bring up the Apple recommended apps which also happen to be easily among the largest non-game apps in the entire App Store. Hardly representative of the typical app, which falls between 20-60MB in my experience as someone with 696 Applications currently installed on my iPhone 5.

    Bringing up the behemoth iMovie and Garage Band apps taking up half a gig each weakens the premise of this article which is that as time and technology have moved on the past few years, the amount of free space available in base model iPhones has DECREASED instead of INCREASED… in a time when a 64GB Flash drive costs under $30 (but used to cost over $100 just 2-3 years ago.)

    Apple is really doing themselves and their customers a disservice. It’s like if Ford came out with a base model of the Ford Explorer that only traveled 50 MPH. It’s so restrictive it severely limits the practical usability of the product.

    • It’s worse than your analogy about speed limits.

      A better analogy would be selling the same model T ford with everything he same but there’s only a drivers seat and 4 missing passenger seats! (Plus no extra storage spa e to replace them).

      Frankly I think the model of capitalism of profit at all odds is criminal. We need to give CEOs and execs the ability in our system to have motivation to think long term and not against humanity just because that’s legally how it is. Here’s an interesting article about why CEO pay is very questionable in regards to company performance : http://smh.com.au/business/ceo-pay-more-complicated-than-it-looks-20150112-12mg19.html

      The base iPhone model should be 32GB right now! I assume that’s why they only have a 16GB and then 64GB model with the iphone6. But seriously it looks like they know 16GB is criminally too small yet continue to f$&k their customers over. If I was on the board I’d be fighting for customer loyalty as it is likely costing more in lost customers than the price advantage.

      I’ve been a loyal apple customer for a number of years now but they really suck when they do penny pinching things like this to add to their crazy money of over $128 billion in the bank from what I undestand. Tim Cook needs to grow some balls and start using that money to make money! Not rip customer offs and lose them!

  10. Just to let u know, I don’t know much about iPhones. I bought an 8gb iPhone 5c, becuz that’s what the store had, I was eligible for an upgrade, and I went to the settings to see how much storage I had and it said it had approximately 5.5gb of storage. It pissed me off!!! I’ve had to be careful on what I download, always looking at how much storage it takes up never having enough for the games I want, not being able to download the updates. It sucks. A lot of the time when I see something awesome, I can’t take a pic of it because I don’t have enough space!!

  11. I found this article while searching why Pages (Apple’s word processing app) is so enormous compared to many other word processing apps.

    I enjoyed the article (and subsequent comments) but it still did not answer for me why the Pages word processing app is so large. I doubt it is a deliberate attempt by Apple to bloat it (although stranger things have happened), but my curiosity drives me to keep seeking an answer.

    So if you, or anyone else, can explain to me why the Pages app is so big, I’d greatly appreciate it.

    Thanks in advance.

  12. Yeah, I think the fact that a SPREADSHEET software (i.e., supposedly 100% CODE) is 335 MB is pretty amazing proof that capable software engineers are long a thing of the past, or Apple just is having a hard time finding any. Odd, considering that they have billions over billions in their bank account.

    I mean, I remember my 4k demo back at Assembly ’94 or something, which probably did more ;)

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