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.
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 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.
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. 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.
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.
As iOS self regulates system resources very well you don’t really need to worry about keeping an eye on them too much. However, if you’re curious, there are some third-party apps that will provide a similar utility for iOS that Activity Monitor provides for macOS.
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.
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:
- Memory usage with about 15 apps open, 21 Safari tabs, and hasn’t been powered off in 10 days (too long 🙃).
- Memory usage after closing out all Safari tabs and all apps.
- Memory usage after powering down iPhone fully.
This is an interesting experiment in that it shows that a small amount of memory resources are freed up by closing Safari tabs and apps, and a bit more by powering down. However, these steps don’t have the same results as you’d see on your Mac (note that CPU usage is constantly changing so the above screenshots aren’t an accurate representation of that metric).
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 (or often any) system resources.
On the whole, iOS is designed so you don’t have to worry about closing out apps, but in some cases like unresponsive apps or overall slow performance it can be worth giving a try.
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.
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.
Background App Refresh and Low Power Mode
Using Low Power Mode is one way to reduce background app refresh activity and other phone features, which will reduce the amount of tasks your device is performing. Navigate to Settings → Battery → Low Power Mode to enable. Mail and other apps won’t automatically refresh and give you alerts like you may be used to receiving.
You can also turn on and off individual apps to be allowed to refresh when they are not being used.
- Find and tap on Settings
- Tap on General
- Tap Background App Refresh
Tap the toggle to the right of each application to turn of the background app refresh feature. Alternately you can turn off all background app refresh activity at the top.
Still not better?
A couple other things to try are reseting Network Settings or All Settings. You can find these by navigating to Settings → General → Reset. Give Reset Network Settings a try first. This won’t delete any data, except you will have to re-enter any Wi-Fi passwords that your device already knows. Use your device and see if performance has improved.
Second, give a try to Reset All Settings, this also won’t erase any user data except it will remove your Lock screen and Home screen wallpaper, so make sure to save that beforehand if it’s not already. You also may have to customize some of your settings preferences again.
In some cases if your device doesn’t seem to improve after addressing the above areas and the two minor reset options above, 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 😛).