My sister, husband, college roommate, son’s godfather and colleague’s brother all have one thing in common: They’ve run out of space on their iPhones.
When a picture-perfect moment arises, instead of thinking about snapping a shot, they think about which photos they can delete to make room for new ones. Capturing videos is almost always out of the question. And downloading new apps is a luxury enjoyed by other people who have space on their phones.
For Apple, this is a good problem to have: It means that more people — certainly a majority of the people I know — use the iPhone camera to take photos.
But are people simply stuck with their maxed-out iPhones?
Hardly. This week, I’ll walk you through how to back up iPhone photos and videos using cloud storage apps from Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Dropbox. After using these apps and confirming that your media is stored elsewhere, you can delete photos and videos from your iPhone to make room for new content.
First things first: Quickly find out what is hogging the most storage on your phone by opening Settings > General > Usage. There you’ll see a long list of the content that you store on the phone; note that the more data you have, the longer it will take to load this list. Content is sorted starting with the biggest stuff, which will be Photos & Camera and Music on most phones. As you look below this at apps, get rid of the big ones that you never or rarely use (iMovie sucked up 673 megabytes on my phone) by selecting them and tapping Delete App.
“But wait!” you say. “Isn’t Apple already backing up all of my photos and videos with Photo Stream?” Yes and no. Apple backs up the contents of your phone’s Camera Roll for restoring your phone if, say, you drop it in the ocean. But you can’t access these photos. Only the last 30 days of photos get automatically synced to your Photo Stream. For more details, take a look at the column I wrote on demysifying iCloud.
Of course, it’s conceivable that Apple could announce some new storage solution at its Worldwide Developers Conference, which is coming up in three weeks.
Even so, Google and Microsoft offer smart solutions for fully backing up all of your phone’s photos and videos. Facebook and Dropbox are less desirable solutions because of their limited free storage and other drawbacks.
Google’s social network, Google+, won’t win any awards for popularity. But it does an excellent job of automatically backing up your phone’s photos and videos. Once this free app is installed on the iPhone, go to Menu (three small lines, top-left), Settings (gear icon, top-right), Camera and Photos, and turn Auto Backup on. This asks for access to your phone’s Camera Roll, and then stores its contents, by default, to a private folder in your Google+ account. Selecting the Auto Backup menu shows additional options, like when to back up photos and when to back up videos (each can be set to upload over Wi-Fi or mobile network, or just over Wi-Fi).
Google account holders get 15 gigabytes of free storage that gets shared across Gmail, Google Drive and Google+ Photos. But the only photos or videos that count against that 15GB limit are photos that are bigger than 2048 x 2048 pixels (pretty huge), and videos that last more than 15 minutes. Everything else — the majority of the photos and videos people ordinarily take — is free.
Microsoft’s OneDrive storage solution has a big advantage: It’s not trying to be a social network. Instead, it’s a cloud storage option that can be accessed from any device. Likewise, content stored on it can easily be shared out to other people, regardless of whether or not they use OneDrive. (Google+ lets you email photos and videos, but its interface first tries to get you to share via the social network — a frustrating step that I almost always skip.)
Once installed, OneDrive asks users to sign in to their Microsoft accounts. These include sign-ins for Windows PCs, tablets or phones, as well as Xbox Live, Outlook.com or old Hotmail accounts. Open Settings (gear icon, bottom right) and select Camera Backup under Options. In this menu, you’ll see options to include resize photos, include videos or use the mobile network (versus Wi-Fi); all are turned off by default.
My initial iPhone backup sessions with Google+ and OneDrive took a while, but I had thousands of photos to back up. I also opted to only back up in Wi-Fi so my cellphone bill wouldn’t go through the roof, so this process started and stopped several times.
OneDrive backup will pause whenever the phone locks. I received pop-up notifications on my phone whenever the uploading stopped, which was annoying.
Someone who works on OneDrive for Microsoft said that the best way to do your big initial backup is to plug your phone into power in Wi-Fi and keep the app in the foreground. After this, the app runs in the background. But iOS can still power it down every so often, so you may will want to occasionally open OneDrive app to ensure that photos are backing up.
OneDrive users get 7GB of storage free, then an additional 3GB for turning camera backup on. If a user shares an invitation to use OneDrive with a friend, and the friend signs up, both get an extra 0.5GB of free storage (up to 5GB total).
Facebook’s photo backup is limited in storage — you only get 2GB of backup space separate from the general photos you post on Facebook. It’s also limited in overall experience, since videos can’t be backed up, and photos are automatically downsized if they get backed up over a mobile network rather than via Wi-Fi.
Like Google+, Facebook saves backed-up photos in a private folder, only showing images to others if you opt to share them.
Dropbox only gives people 2GB of free storage; the Dropbox Pro account charges $10 a month or $100 a year for 100GB. But unlike Facebook, it allows video backup, though never using your cellular data. Users can opt in to use cellular data in addition to Wi-Fi for backups.
After backing up to Google+ or OneDrive, go back to your iPhone and delete away. Yes, it’s a bit scary. But so is walking around with an iPhone that’s bursting at the seams and unable to store anything.