Sunday, November 11, 2012

iCloud Backups - the Missing Space Dilema

The iCloud backups are an amazing service for iOS users. If you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, you'll love to know that your device keeps a regularly updated backup in the "cloud", allowing you to easily get everything back in working order should you ever need to replace/upgrade your devices.

The only problem arises when you start receiving warning emails, that your allotted iCloud space is almost filled!

Apple offers each and every user 5GB of free iCloud space (you can buy more space) and in my case my backup was nearing 4.9GB. I found it odd to be using so much space. Though I have several hundred apps installed (some over 1GB), the iCloud backup doesn't count Apps as occupying space. Only your personal data, as photos, and app settings/data, do. And while I have 3.7GB of photos on my camera roll, I couldn't imagine what might be using up the extra 1GB+ of space.

What could be the cause for the low space warning on iCloud? How could I make my backup size get back under control?

Digging deep into what was using space on the iCloud backup I found some strange things.

For starters, there were some Apps that shouldn't be using up any space that were gobbling up hundreds of Megabytes.

For instance, my much loved Pano (for panoramic photos) was using over 80MB of space.

That was quite odd, as I had no "pending" photos in it to process at a later date, and all processed panoramic shots are saved to the iOS photo album, meaning it shouldn't take any space at all. Having no other choice to clean it up, I removed and reinstalled the App... and it immediately went back to a much more manageable 400KB.

There's one other quirk I found in iCloud backups. When you remove an App, its backup remains in iCloud. That is kind of neat, because it allows you to remove and reinstall apps at a later date, and get everything back to the way you had it before. But it also means that simply removing an App won't free up your iCloud backup space.

So, you need to do the awkward steps of: removing the App, going to iCloud backup storage management, serch for the offending app (which might be hard to find among hundreds of others), disabling its backup - which will effectively free the space on iCloud; doing a new iCloud backup sync; and then reinstalling the App (and making sure it's backup setting is enabled once again).

I had to do that several times, for instance - for some PDF reader Apps, where I had hundreds of files using up a lot of space. I deleted most of the files, greatly reducing the data size of the App... but the iCloud backup didn't update until I did those steps.

I think things could be simpler if iOS simply asked if we wished to keep or remove the iCloud backup of any app when we removed it, just like it asks if we want to keep the scores in game center for games.

There's also one last issue - but that is up to developers - there are apps that use up several megabytes of data for things that they could download from the internet once reinstalled. For instance, it makes no sense for a Twitter client App to use up more that a few KB of data for its settings - but there are some that use up megabytes of data.

And worst of all, just how many of those Apps you have installed might be using up valuable backup space with "junk data" like the one I found in Pano?

The good part is that if there's any serious issue, it will eventually pop up to the top of the list, where you'll immediately notice it. The bad part is... you shouldn't have to.

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