For most of my life, I never imagined I’d ever HAVE eight gigabytes of flash-based storage on a phone I carried around in my pocket, much less consider that ridiculously HUGE amount of memory paltry and insufficient. My how quickly things can change! This is the relative allocation of memory space on my iPhone this evening after a recent sync, showing space used by music, photos, videos, applications, and “other” stuff:

My iPhone flash drive allocations this evening

Does anyone have a recommendation for how much free space to leave available on an iPhone or other smart phone? The rule of thumb I’ve always heard for “regular” computer hard drives is ten percent of the total storage capacity. Computers need space for scratch disks and other purposes, I’ve learned, and leaving enough free memory space is critical for the computer to operate at its top potential speed. I don’t know if the same goes for iPhones and other smart phones, however. They ARE computers, after all, but flash-based free memory rules may be different than those for spinning hard disks.

I couldn’t readily find an article on the official Apple iPhone support site which addressed this. iPhoneHacks makes the same 10 percent rule of thumb suggestion, but does not support or back up the recommendation with rationale or cited experts. The first and only commenter on CNET’s iPhone Atlas blog post “Reminder: Keep some free space on your iPhone” from August 2007 questions the logic and necessity of keeping 10 percent of the iPhone’s memory free, writing:

I also think that if leaving some free space was so critical to normal iPhone operation that Apple would have made it clear to the user (via the manual and software prompts) that they should do so. Heck, if it was so critical, why wouldn’t they just have left a section of the disk reserved for things like cache, separate from the space that the user uses for videos, music, and photos? In fact, they may have done this — we don’t know. It just seems odd that they would not do one or the other of these things, since with the iPod we don’t have to worry about leaving a certain percentage of the disk empty, and they would know that people would want to fit as much in their limited storage space as they possibly could.

In short, I’m not convinced that the commonly accepted practices for OS X computers apply to the iPhone. You probably shouldn’t fill it absolutely full, but do we have any actual input from Apple or hard proof that a certain amount of space needs to be left empty?

I also question the idea that 10 percent of an iPhone’s memory should be left free. The overall memory of my iPhone is 8 GB, but as you can see in the above graphic iTunes shows just over 7 GB to be available. Where is the missing gigabyte? I’m thinking scratch disk space is included in that space.

I have had instances where my iPhone acted sluggishly or did weird things, but in every case a quick restart seemed to do the trick and return performance speeds back to “normal.”

Do you have insights or experiences to share relative to this question of free space left available on an iPhone or other smart phone?

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7 Responses to How much free space should I leave on my iPhone?

  1. Helen says:

    Wes–I’ve been wondering this myself. I’m down to less than 500 MB and am getting worried. In fact, I’ve already taken some things off my phone to keep this bit of space. I can’t wait to hear what others have to say. I think your premise about the missing GB could be true. I just figured it was where the iPhone software was installed.

  2. Wesley Fryer says:

    I went ahead and posted this question in the Apple iPhone support forum, Helen, maybe we’ll hear some answers there.

  3. I have no idea if this has any merit but a friend of mine told me that battery life will increase with more space taken up on the drive.

  4. Eric M. says:

    I would leave more room so you have space to download apps when you need them.

  5. Alan Levine says:

    Shoulda bought the 16Gb, eh?

    I would not screw around and make room. Dump the long Bee Gees and Abba tracks 😉

    I don’t keep a lot of video on my iPhone; once I watch a movie (I bought a few on itunes from travel), I move them off my iTunes directory to a backup hard drive. I am selective on my photos; I dont sync them all, but use tags to create smart photo sets.

  6. Wesley Fryer says:

    This is an original iPhone so I’m thinking the 16 GB wasn’t available then– just 8 GB and 4 GB… Is that right? I’m thinking I got all the memory I could… certainly want that now!

    I am really missing my 80 GB iPod which was stolen from my car several months ago, since it could contain all my content. Now I have to be more selective with both playlists and videos. Not a terrible thing. This is challenging me to use the genius feature along with smart playlists to delve into my collection of songs more… I’m making playlists just for the videos I want to sync, like TedTalks. I have a lot more downloaded than will fit.

    I haven’t used tags on iPhoto photos and should give that try. Thanks for the tip.

  7. Xtianapi says:

    The operating system uses space and is not included on what it shows you. The memory on the phone does not work like a hard drive instead the data is evenly distributed across the memory module using something called leveling algorithms. To make it easier on these algorithms to even everything out you should leave fifteen to twenty percent free. If you can’t manage to do that then you will be a little harder on the memory, but that shouldn’t matter because everyone ends up replacing there phone before the memory wears out. I wouldn’t worry to much about it unless you are planning to have that phone for five years or more. I would try to keep eight hundred MB free.

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