iPad memory management – how to free up storage space


One of the key reasons the iPad works so well for pilots is that its simple to operate–just turn it on and go flying. There’s really no required maintenance other than to keep the battery charged and periodically update the apps and aviation data.

Over time though as you download more and more apps you may run into an alert on your iPad that says “Storage almost full” when downloading apps or aviation charts. This means it’s time to start thinking about freeing up some space by deleting unused apps and media.

iPad storage options

Before we go further, let’s review the storage options for the iPad. Fortunately this is pretty simple since Apple offers 3 sizes for the current models: 32GB, 128GB and 256GB (previous-generation models came with as few as 8GB). Since the iPad’s internal memory is not upgradeable, it’s important to plan ahead and buy a model with more storage than you initially anticipate needing.

As a point of reference, downloading all the VFR/IFR charts, airport info and high-resolution terrain data for the United States in ForeFlight Mobile takes 18GB of data. And keep in mind too that if you update your charts a few days before the expiration date, ForeFlight will store 2 sets of charts until the start of the next cycle, requiring additional space for a short period of time.

While many of us don’t need to download charts for the entire U.S., you can see that it still doesn’t take long to fill up a 32GB iPad. On top of that you’ll want room for your other apps, along with additional space to accommodate new features that may be added in the future. So while a 32GB model may work, we think it’s worth spending the extra $100 and purchasing the 128GB model.

Analyze your current memory status

There are several ways to free up storage space on an iPad. Start out by checking the current memory status, which is located on the main iPad Settings page. Next select General from the list of options on the left, and then select the Storage and iCloud Usage option midway down the screen.

At the top of the usage page you’ll first see how much free space is remaining, along with a list of all your apps sorted by size. The MB/GB size next to each app represents the actual application size plus its downloaded content (e.g. charts, movies, music, etc.).

How to free up space

Now that you know what’s taking up all your space, it’s time to start prioritizing your needs and remove nonessential apps and content:

1. Delete unused apps – The easiest way to free up space is to review this list and see if there are any apps that you don’t use any more. You’ll probably be surprised to see how much space some apps are taking up, especially if they contain embedded video or media. To delete an app from this list, tap the name and you’ll see a red Delete button appear. After confirming the deletion, the app is removed and that space is instantly freed up.

You can also delete apps directly from the home screen of the iPad. To do this, tap and hold the application icon until it wiggles. You’ll see a small “X” in the upper left corner, and tapping this will bring up the deletion confirmation alert. Keep in mind too that deleting an app does not mean you will have to buy it again if you decide later on that you want it back. Simply find that app in the App Store, and you’ll see an ‘Install’ button to re-download it at no cost.


2. Remove media collections inside of apps  There may be apps on the list here that display a massive file size, but in reality are bloated due to the media downloaded in the app. When you click on one of the apps you’ll see Documents and Data listed with a file size. It doesn’t take long for your favorite magazine or newspaper app to grow to several GB of data after a years worth of downloads. Most apps allow you to delete individual editions or old content right in the app to free up space.


3. Use cloud services for music, videos and photos – With internet access available just about anywhere (when on the ground), consider moving your large photo collections online to “cloud” servers, using services like Apple iCloud, Dropbox or Google Drive. For example in the main iPad Settings > Photos and Camera section you can enable iCloud Photo Library, which will automatically upload and store your entire photo library for instant online retrieval.


As for music saved on your iPad, tap on the Music app from the Manage Storage section and delete songs you know longer want to store on your device. If you subscribe to the Apple Music you can instantly stream them from the Music app when online.

4. Optimize chart types and regions in your EFB app – Next open up your aviation apps and check if there are states or regions selected for download that you realistically won’t be flying through–for example removing downloaded charts for Alaska instantly frees up 2GB.


5. Set iMessage storage limits – While you might only use the Messages app on your iPhone, all the messages and attachments will still end up on your iPad if this feature is enabled. Over the course of a year this can easily grow to several GBs in size. One way to control this and still keep the Message app synced on your iPad is to limit the length of time messages are saved. Go to Settings > Messages > Message History, and set “Keep Messages” to 30 days.


6. Clear Safari web browser cache – Every web browser saves data from frequently-visited sites to improve the user experience. It’s worth clearing this out from time to time to free up space and speed things up. Go to Settings > Safari > Clear History and Website Data, and tap that option. This will remove browsing history, cookies and other cached (saved) data.




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