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Pointers: making a 16GB iOS device work for you
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Jun 15, 2016, 04:25 PM
There are, it would seem, two types of iPhone owners: those who buy their device based on price, and thus don't really consider how much storage it has, for one reason or another -- and those who write angry letters to Tim Cook every month demanding a 1TB capacity iPhone. Long-time Mac and iPhone users who have been using the devices for a long time are dumbfounded that Apple still offers a 16GB base capacity for most of its iOS devices (and still offers "anemic" base storage levels for some Macs, like the MBA), but this Pointers will lead you down the path of Zen, and the validation of all things. Even 16GB.

There are another two types of Apple users: those who are used to having everything associated with their computer stored and available to them at all times, and a more recent breed who live and work mostly in the cloud, and are comfortable there. Thus, this Pointers has a dual purpose: bridging the divide between these two mindsets so that each can understand the other, and as you would expect, some tips on how to manage your now-painfully undersized storage.

A look back

If you've ever met someone who lived through the Great Depression, you may have noticed that many of them have a tendency to buy necessities in large quantities, and perhaps a tendency to hoard some items. This is entirely due to having seen what it is like when you can't get the things you need to live, or come perilously close to lacking the fundamentals of life, like food and shelter. Broadly speaking, you'll see something of the same tendency among veteran computer users, the author of this Pointers included (even though the Great Depression was just a bit before his time).

As with the Depression survivors, this started as a trust issue: computers really did used to be far less reliable than they are now, and there was a fairly high chance that whatever you put on one would eventually be lost (and without backups, this risk remains, though it's less common now). While computers have become much more reliable, while backup systems have improved their usability, those of us who remember things like the "click of death" from Iomega cartridges and similar incidents will never fully trust computer storage. Repeat for those around for the early days of the "Information Superhighway."

Oddly, though, the rise of cloud storage options for offsite backup (and which is itself far more redundantly backed up than anything you've ever done), which you'd think would be welcomed by such people in fact triggers those trust issues even more, as the technology is marketed in such a way as to make it seem "new" and "fancy," which is code for "untested and unreliable" in their view, and that's before you run into the many misconceptions about what it is and how it works.

People who only started using their own personal computer or mobile device back around the time Hillary Clinton was running for President the first time around (or more recently than that) have no idea why veteran users are so distrustful. The Internet has -- to them -- always been here, and it runs entirely in "the cloud," and broadly has (in their minds) a 99-plus percent uptime, so what's the problem? You see this with Apple Pay and airplanes: both are much safer, efficient, and faster than any other form in their respective fields, but a surprising number of people are mistrustful/suspicious/afraid of them.

Looking forward

So for many more recent computer users -- the ones who grew up using LiveJournal and MySpace and Facebook to do most of their communicating, who text more than they email by a wide margin, who think video calling is a routine thing and not some crazy sci-fi idea -- the net and the cloud are just part and parcel of what computers are and do, and can reliably be trusted as storage space just as it is for services and sites. When that idea is applied to the type of items that tend to take up the most space on a given device -- music, pictures, and video -- the whole "streaming" fad (particularly if you think of it in terms of "on demand" services) starts to make more sense, even to those of us with large CD/DVD or record/book collections (henceforth referred to as "hard copy backups" and "analog backups," respectively).

Back when 16GB was the "large" storage size on iPhones and 4GB was the starter level (try to even imagine it!), I used to counsel people that the trick to handling it was to rotate out your music, and limit your photos and videos (we didn't have multi-GB game apps back then -- or indoor plumbing, you punk kids!) using iTunes. It didn't take much time -- even back when iPods used FireWire to connect -- to swap out a playlist that had enough music for eight hours of listening, so you could conceivably change it out each evening for a new randomly-generated set of songs in the last minutes before you went to bed. You could limit your iPhone's stored pictures to just the last three months. You could avoid storing videos except the ones you just shot, and offload them as soon as possible.

You can still do all of these things on 16GB, except that now the music library could last a weekend of nonstop no-repeat listening, the photos could go back a year, and you've got room for a movie or two, and a few of your own videos. Yes, it requires a bit more discipline than someone who bought a 128GB iPhone has to have, but its actually a minimal amount of managerial bother for 90 percent of the files you want to access most. Of course, in the last couple of years we've now got the option to dispense (if we wish) with locally-stored music almost entirely, and can rely on YouTube for our videos, and other cloud services for our photos as well.

You start to see where someone who still has a 16GB iPhone could just about manage, since the cloud makes it possible to avoid storing nearly all of the "stuff" that takes up notable space, from movies to even documents, directly on the device. There's another practical advantage to cloud storage, as well: in addition to the offsite backup of those items you store that way, you gain access to those items from any device you can use to log in to your account. Need that slideshow you were working on at home on your iPad while you wait at the airport? If you stored it on iCloud or OneDrive, just pull it down and open it in your slideshow app of choice.

On top of all that, depending on what you're using to handle your music and video needs, the "cost" of this ranges from "free" to super cheap. Streaming services like Apple Music, Netflix, and Yahoo's Flickr and provide you with virtually unlimited (barring cellular data costs; try to use Wi-Fi as much as possible) music, movies and TV shows, and on-demand storage for your photos. There are many other services that offer similar options, starting with Apple's own iCloud services (we suggest the 50GB tier at $1 a month for most users) that has the advantage of covering most people's needs for photo and document storage, and being built right in.

Throw in another $19-$28 a month -- $10-$15 for music (individual or family streaming service from Apple Music or Spotify or whatever), $8-12 for one of the big-name video streamers (how weird is that, right?) -- and we're looking at less than $30 a month for a huge buffet of entertainment (and some storage space for your documents and/or photos as well) you can access from a wide variety of devices -- phones, tablets, computers, Apple TV, smart HDTVs, smart receivers, and more. Even when one or more of those services experiences a brief bit of downtime, your stuff is backed up to the nines, so your chances of losing it is statistically zero.

Something for everyone

If we're making the cloud sound like the be-all and end-all of smart storage on a low-capacity device, we're sorry -- it is the most flexible and versatile, and we think everyone should give it a fair shake, given that you've been using cloud services (like "your bank's website" and "Facebook") for years. We can appreciate those who have security concerns, but you can still use something like iCloud to store your non-sensitive documents, or use an online backup service that encrypts your stuff, like IDrive or BackBlaze.

Most of these services these days offer end-to-end encryption, strong password protection, and even two-factor authentication -- they are, to be blunt, safer than your own home computer's hard drive in most cases. There are still issues with potential cost, bandwidth use, and upload time that may prove to be obstacles in some cases, but that's okay -- as we mentioned, you can keep everything local (and synced locally) if you prefer. It's a bit more "management work," but not a lot.

As MacNN's Managing Editor Mike has said (on our podcast) and written about (on the site), it is easier than ever to set up your own home network drive for storing entertainment or document files for easy local access, or even your own "personal cloud" (i.e., secure remote access to your own home server). This has some notable upfront costs, and requires just a bit more administrative work than the local iTunes-based sync we mentioned previously, but it puts you completely in charge -- and is handy for when you have a really large amount (multiple terabytes) of files you want to have access to on demand.

We also now have yet another option to consider: we're starting to see two-connector flash drives that offer Lightning connectors in addition to the usual USB-A or USB-C. This can -- with the help of an app to manage things -- give iPhone or iPad users extra storage, and for the iPad Pro it can even work at up to USB 3.0 speeds, which finally makes them more than just novelties in our opinion. Need even more iOS space, for say movies? There are wireless hard drives available, designed to work with Android and iOS and the desktop platforms alike. They are pretty pricey, but a good option if you are going to need them regularly.

That old saying was wrong, as it turns out: you can take it with you. Even with "only" 16GB.

-- Charles Martin
( Last edited by NewsPoster; Jun 15, 2016 at 04:36 PM. )
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Jun 16, 2016, 09:35 AM
Thanks for mentioning reliability. Those depending on an always-up cloud should keep in mind that major catastrophes can take down commercial power for a week or more. As soon as it goes, there's no power to pump gas for your car. Two days later, cellular begins to shut down as site batteries run down. Users should make sure the apps and data they need in a disaster aren't in the cloud but sitting on their device. Several, large-capacity USB battery packs are a good idea—enough for light and device-powering for at least a week. And when you consider disaster data, don't forget entertainment. The wait for power can be long and boring, especially for kids.
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Steve Wilkinson
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Jun 17, 2016, 02:27 AM
Yea, the cloud, especially if the creator of said cloud rhymes with rapple, should probably be kinda low on the trust-o-meter. It's gotten much better since the Mobile Me days, but isn't exactly their strong suit.

So, with iOS 9 or 10, once the OS is on there, what does free space look like?

My 32GB iPod touch currently has 17.3 GB free (so, if I did a direct upgrade, I'd be running 1.3 GB free?), and I don't keep much on it at all (for example, the camera is nearly useless for photo, and only a bit better for video... so it mostly goes unused... and it's old enough that I don't have nearly the apps on it I'd probably like to have... I've got 312MB of music... podcasts are my biggest space hog). But, it's also running iOS 6.1.6. Maybe iOS 9 is much more efficient? My iPad is also a 32GB with 4.4 GB free currently, but I do keep a good bit of stuff on there.
Steve Wilkinson
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