How Much Media Content Does a 16 GB iPad Hold?

In a recent article, I did a test to see how much free space was left on a 16 GB iPad after installing iOS and all of Apple’s apps. Taking into account the “Other” space that’s always lost on an iOS device, I got a bit more than 8 GB to store music, movies, photos and other content.

Today, I tried another experiment: with the base iOS installation, and no other apps, how much content can it hold? I did this in part following a Twitter conversation with Jim M. who pointed out that the idea of selling music in lossless formats was problematic with so many 16 GB devices.

So, I wanted to find out how many hours of lossless music a 16 GB iPad would hold, taking into account a variable amount of “Other” space lost; in my case, between 1 and 1.5 GB. The answer is around 48 hours.

Lossless music

Lossless music is not all the same bit rate. It compresses differently according to the type of music. It varies from around 400 kbps to as much as 900 kbps, but, on average, comes in around the middle of that range. Though if you want to copy a lot of, say, harpsichord music to your iOS device, you’ll get fewer hours of music than if you sync music that takes up less space. In my test, the average was almost exactly 512 kbps.

The next step was to see how much music I could get on my device at 256 kbps, the bit rate the iTunes Store uses. I managed to squeeze just over four days’ worth of music, or 96 hours, almost exactly twice the amount of lossless music:


How about movies? I managed to sync two Die Hard movies in HD with some free space; two Harry Potter movies; one Lord of the Rings; a bit more for movies I ripped from DVDs. For the latter, since they come in around 2 GB each, I can get 5 movies comfortably.

I recall taking a trip a couple of years ago, and bringing this iPad mini with me. I was re-watching Breaking Bad, at least the seasons that had already aired at the time. I was able to fit about five episodes, as they are around 2 GB each. (I used hotel wifi to download others.)

All this is a thought experiment, designed to point out that with a 16 GB device, there’s not much space for anything. Once you start taking a lot of photos and videos, you’ll eat up free space; when you add apps, that’ll take up room. What’s left isn’t much.

This is yet another suggestion that Apple shouldn’t be selling a 16 GB device; and that users certainly should not buy it. You may only use your iPhone or iPad for a few apps, and not sync media; if so, then the 16 GB device will be big enough for you. But once you start syncing content to the device, it will fill up very quickly.

2 thoughts on “How Much Media Content Does a 16 GB iPad Hold?

  1. I use my ipad mini 80% as an RSS reader, it is the 16 gb wifi variant and it’s half empty. So, I’m happy that I saved some money.
    Also, most business users won’t need more also. We get the 16 gb iphone at work, and it’s ok for most users. You don’t have many pics or music on your business phone when you have a 2nd, private phone as well.
    But yeah, Apple should go to 32 gb next year, if only to prevent that users are unable to update iOS due to free space issues.

  2. I struggle to understand the thought experiment and the conclusion that “Apple shouldn’t be selling a 16GB device; and that users certainly should not buy it”.
    Your experiments shows that when ripping your DVDs, you were able to get five movies comfortably.
    The amount of leisure time represented by those five movies, assuming they are not enough, is a first world problem that should cause us reevaluate how we judge a luxury device.
    With music you were able to accommodate over eleven hours of listening both using lossless and lossy formats. It raises the question of how does one measure a device where its storage capacity is a fungible resource.
    A person who is willing and able to sync with iTunes will have a different experience than one who does not connect, and perhaps relies on iCloud.
    Purchasing a larger capacity iPad is a way of delaying the limitations inherent in a system where cheap,reliable,always accessible internet cloud services are still in the future.
    All those non technical Uncles, Aunt’s and sundry relations who receive the iPad 16GB as a gift; can you make the case that there is a better tablet with fewer drawbacks to be had at that price?

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