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Summary:

Just like a computer, your iPhone can slow down over time. Here are some tips to help get it running as good as new.

faster-iphone
photo: Gigaom Illustration

Is your iPhone running slower than it used to? While iPhones seem to hold up fairly well over the length of a standard two-year contract (at least in my experience), there are plenty of factors that can contribute to some slight or significant slowdown. So if you’re looking to make your iPhone faster, these tips should help bring it back to feeling brand new.

What’s taking up the most space?

A bloated phone is a slower phone, so you want to make sure your iPhone has a little room to breathe. But before you do anything drastic, you should get a sense of what’s actually taking up the most space.

Luckily, checking out your iPhone’s usage is a very simple process. Simply tap on Settings > General > Usage. (Note that it might take a while for this list to populate, especially if your phone is really loaded up.)

iPhone usage

This will show you a list of what’s taking up all that space, starting with the biggest data hogs and moving down to the smallest. To start, I’d play closer attention to the top of the list, since that’s where there’s the most work to be done.

Note: Before you delete anything, it’s a good idea to make sure your phone is backed up, just in case. You can find information on backing up your iPhone here.

Delete unused apps

Now that you know just how much space those apps take up, it’s time to clear some of them out. You can do this from the home screen — by holding down an app until it wiggles, then pressing the X icon in the upper left corner — but it’s easier to do it from the Usage menu, where you’ll be reminded of how big an app is before you delete it.

To delete an app from here, simply tap on it, then hit Delete App on the next page it brings up.

Flappy Bird iPhone Usage

Delete some music, photos and (lots of) video

When you look at your phone’s usage, you’ll probably find that music, photos and video are taking up a ton of space — especially video files, which are huge. You’ll want to delete as much as possible, but it’s up to you to decide what stays and what goes. That said, there are multiple ways you can go about deleting these files.

If you want to delete all of your music in one fell swoop, you can do so from the Usage menu. Simply tap on Music, then hit Edit at the top of the next screen. This will bring up a red circle with a Minus sign next to All Music. Tap the circle and you’ll be given an option to delete everything.

Delete all music iPhone

Chances are you don’t want to start from scratch, however. In that case, whenever you find a song you want to delete from your Music app, simply swipe across the name of the song to the left (like you’re deleting an email) to bring up the option to delete it.

iPhone delete song

Note: Unless you’re an audiophile with a great pair of headphones, you probably don’t need to store super-high-quality audio files on your iPhone. iTunes offers the option to automatically convert higher bit rate songs to 128kbps AAC files before placing them on your phone (you can also choose 192 or 256kbps). For most people, even 128kbps will sound good enough and can save you a ton of space.

auto convert bitrate itunes

Deleting photos isn’t quite as simple. The only way to delete them all at once in iOS 7 is to connect your phone to your computer and choose Select All from the File menu before deleting the images through iPhoto (you can read more about quickly deleting photos from your iPhone here).

But if you only want to delete certain images and videos directly from your phone, you can do it right from the Photos app. Just open the app up, make sure you’re in the Photos view at the bottom of the screen, then tap Select in the top right corner. This will allow you to select all of the photos you wish to delete, which you can do by tapping the trash can icon in the bottom right corner.

iPhone delete photos

Don’t forget to get rid of old messages (especially photos and video)

Messages take up a lot of space too. Not necessarily text messages, but all those picture messages you send and receive take up a ton of space.

If you don’t mind losing your entire message history with someone, you can delete an entire series of messages by swiping left across the most recent message in your Messages app. But if you want only want to delete pictures and video you can do that too, though it’s going to take a little more work.

Open a message. Find a picture or video you want to delete and hold your finger down on it. When a dialogue box appears choose More. This will allow you to select individual messages to delete by checking off the boxes to the left of each message. You can then delete them by tapping on the trash can icon in the bottom left corner.

delete iphone texts

Clear out your cache

Safari caches data to speed up page load times, but too much data can also slow down your phone overall. To clear it out, tap on Settings > Safari > Clear History. Then do the same but choose Clear Cookies and Data.

clear iphone safari cache

And if you make to make sure Safari is squeaky clean, tap on Settings > Safari > Advanced > Website Data. Scroll down to the bottom of the screen, tap Remove All Website Data, confirm that you wish to remove it, and there it goes. Note that doing this will also remove any saved login information you have unless you store it in iCloud Keychain.

Update your software

Yes, sometimes upgrading to a big, new iOS on an older iPhone can actually slow down your device. But if you’re already running iOS 7, make sure you have the latest version installed. New releases often bring tiny speed and performance bumps. You can make sure you’re up to date by tapping Settings > General > Software Update.

Some other software fixes

If you’re running iOS 7, there are a couple of other things you can try. First, you can turn off some of the new visual features introduced in the OS, like parallax motion, which are taxing on your CPU. To do this, tap Settings > General > Accessibility, and set Reduce Motion to On.

iPhone reduce motion

You should also turn off background processes, which use up a lot of available processing resources. Your best bet is to keep background apps from automatically refreshing. This means apps like Twitter won’t continue to update even when not in use. To do this tap Settings > General > Background App Refresh, then switch the toggle to off.

iPhone background app refresh

Reset your settings

Sometimes making your phone feel like new again requires you to switch some settings back to when your phone actually was new. Your best bet for this is to reset all of your phone’s settings.

To do this, tap on Settings > General > Rest > Reset All Settings. This won’t delete any of your apps, music, photos or other data, but it will reset all of your configurations, including email and network settings.

iPhone reset

And if you truly want to start off fresh, you can choose to erase all of your iPhone’s content and settings. This will delete all of the data and settings on your phone, restoring it back to its original out-of-box state. You can read more on how to reset your iPhone here.

Get a new phone

This might seem obvious. But then again maybe not. If you’re still using an iPhone 3GS, there really isn’t much else you can do at this point to make it run any faster. Most of the tips above should help, but the only way to get your phone feeling brand new is to get a brand new phone.

  1. I’d like to see empirical data to back up your claims.

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  2. Do you have any data to support that free space equates to speed? This article is based in speculation and is somewhat embarrassing.

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    1. We deleted your other two comments, Jason. If you want to criticize the article that’s one thing, but we’re not going tolerate personal attacks.

      Alex will address your comments when he has a chance.

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    2. I’ve reviewed and benchmarked hundreds of phones over the last few years. Anecdotally, I can tell you that the less free space a phone has, the slower it runs. But aside from that, by freeing up space, you can also be removing apps that are running in the background and refreshing, which has a definite impact on performance. I’ll fill my phone up with a bunch of unnecessary apps and files and run some before and after benchmarks to show this.

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      1. This is not true on devices running iOS. iOS has a built in system management that suspends apps running in the background when the device requires more resources for the current task (ie. unless the device just can’t handle the app, other apps you have aren’t going to negatively impact your device when they aren’t in the foreground). Also, freeing up space on a device running iOS does not help because of the way data is stored on those devices. Computers and phones slow down mostly due to bad or fragmented files, of which iOS devices do not get, as well as macs.

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  3. I’d like to see some information about dealing with the ‘other’ space on an iPhone or iPad. What is it? How can I get rid of it without messing up my device? There seems to be an app which says it will get rid of the other for you in either a free or paid version but will this causes issues? How big should you let other get? Or is it best to leave other in the long run?

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  4. I’m a lost case, still holding to my 3GS, gosh everyday tasks have become HELL.
    Hopefully will be getting my 5S this month.

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  5. Jason, please complaint to your home mirror.

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  6. is this a debate or what? whoa

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  7. this was fantastic advice, extremely straightforward. thank you!!!!

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  8. who would want to delete flappy bird

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  9. everybody

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