Become Tech Savvy: Sizing up a slow iPhone or iPad and what to do next

First time checking out this series? You’ll get the most value by starting at the beginning, however you can also use the series overview if you’d like to go buffet style.

Note for regular readers, the already tech savvy, and IT professionals: this series is designed as a resource you can share with those you are helping or for those looking to become tech savvy on their own.

How to size up a slow iPhone/iPad and next steps

Background, Expectations, & Best Practices

Much like we discussed last week about Macs, one of the great things about the iPhone and iPad is that they often last a long time (although users typically update iPhones more frequently than iPads and Macs). While this is a hallmark feature of a quality product, your iPhone or iPad performance may also decrease the longer you own it.

One notable difference to mention as we look assessing a slow iOS device and some ways to improve performance is that hardware upgrades aren’t really an option. In contrast, with some Macs, upgrading the hard disk drive to a solid state drive or increasing the RAM memory can be great options to improve performance and get more life out of your machine. However, with Apple’s iPhone and iPad, upgrading internal components isn’t an option.

System resources

Getting an eye on your iPhone or iPads system resources and usage is a good first step to sizing things up. Since iOS doesn’t include a tool like Activity Monitor that macOS offers for the Mac, we’ll look at a free third-party app to lend a hand.

What to do with slow iPhone or iPad

Traffic Monitor is the app I use to get a more detailed look at my iPhone. At the bottom of the app are tabs to look at specific information for Data Usage, Device, Speed, Network, and Settings. This app includes an Apple Watch app and also works for iPad.

Memory

Depending on what iPhone or iPad you have you’ll likely notice between 1-3 GB (1,000-3,000 MB) of memory. I have an iPhone 7 Plus which has 3 GB, and shows as total available of 2,998 MB in Traffic Monitor. I’ve included three images below:

  1. Memory usage with about 15 apps open, 21 Safari tabs, and hasn’t been powered off in 10 days (too long 🙃).
  2. Memory usage after closing out all Safari tabs and all apps.
  3. Memory usage after powering down iPhone fully.

What to do with a slow iPhone or iPad

This is an interesting experiment in that is shows that memory resources are freed up by closing Safari tabs and apps, and more so buy powering down. However, these steps don’t have quite as big of results as you’d see on your Mac.

All in all, it’s good a good idea to power your iPhone or iPad off once a week or so to give it a break, but this shows how efficient iOS is with system resources and for the most part, apps in the background don’t use much memory. So you may see a small to medium boost in performance by freeing up memory, but don’t expect huge gains.

I did this same test with an iPhone 6 (it has 1 GB of memory) with almost identical results, however your mileage may vary depending on your model and what software you’re running. For a detailed description the various types of memory usage tap the circled “i” icon to the right of MEMORY USAGE.

Other handy uses for this app include tracking and setting alerts for cellular data usage (which can be set to follow your billing cycle), checking network speeds, and getting more in-depth system and network information.

A tip to close out Safari tabs quickly is to do a long press on the double square icon, you’ll then get the option to close all open tabs. Alternately you can do a normal tap on the two square and close out individual browser tabs with the “x” in the left corner.

What to do with a slow iPhone or iPad

A quick tip on closing apps is you can do this by either doing a 3D Touch (firm press on iPhone 6s/6s Plus and iPhone 7/7 Plus) on the left side of your display or by double-pressing the Home button, then swipe apps up to close them out.

What to do with a slow iPhone

Storage

Low storage or no available storage is a common cause of a slow iPhone or iPad. You can keep an eye on this with apps like Traffic Monitor as shown above. For a more detailed look at what is using the majority of your storage navigate to Settings → General → Storage & iCloud Usage. You may also find our how to free up space on your iPhone article helpful.

Crashing apps, not receiving messages and emails, not being able to take photos or videos, and general sluggishness are often signs of low or no available storage.

While it’s not possible to upgrade the internal storage of your iPhone or iPad, there are good options now for external storage to easily move or save large files directly from your iPhone or iPad to another device. You can always fall back on deleting data and apps, saving to your Mac or PC, or saving to a cloud service, but it’s often handy to have an external drive with Lightning connectivity.

Software

In most cases, staying up to date with software (both individual apps and iOS) will help your iPhone or iPad perform best. As with all things though, there are exceptions. In this case, if you have the oldest iPhone or iPad that is supported by the current iOS version, you may notice slower performance. This is because at a certain point Apple can’t optimize a device’s performance with 4.5-5 year old hardware any further. You can find the list of supported devices on Apple’s website.

In some cases if your device doesn’t seem to improve after addressing memory, storage, and software updates, a restore may be the next best step. If you feel comfortable this is easily done with your Mac or PC through iTunes (make sure you have a backup first). You can also contact Apple Support by calling 800-APL-CARE or visiting the support website.

Once you’ve restored your device you can try restoring from an iTunes or iCloud backup, if your device performance still doesn’t improve, restoring again and starting fresh without restoring from a backup may be worth testing out (although not fun 😛).

Last Week: Sizing up a slow Mac and what you can do about it

Next Week: How to approach updating software on iPhone and iPad


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