How to Upgrade to iOS 9 if Your 16 GB iPhone Lacks Space

George Tinari

When a new iOS software update comes out and you attempt to install it, you might find that your iPhone or iPad requires additional free space. So you end up either having to delete apps or videos one by one or just have to stay on an older version of iOS. Fear not. It doesn’t have to be this way.

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Get iOS 9 without having to delete individual apps | Shutterstock

The reason your iPhone needs so much free space to install updates is because the entire software update must first download on the phone. Once you install the new update, since the old software is removed, you get nearly all of the space back.

However, since many people don’t know this, they think new updates are continuously eating away at their storage. There are a few pretty easy workarounds so that you don’t have to go through and delete large apps or lengthy iMessage conversations just to get iOS 9 or any other software update, so let’s run through them.

Use Apple’s New Update Tool

Apple is introducing a new tool particularly for owners of a 16 GB iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. The tool debuts alongside the iOS 9 release and it automatically deletes certain apps — just enough to free up the necessary space on your phone — then automatically puts them back once the installation is complete.

This is the easiest route to take. When you’re ready to download and install iOS 9 (in Settings > General > Software Update) look for a message that reads, “In order to make room for the software update, some apps will need to be temporarily deleted. All deleted apps will automatically be replaced after the update is complete.” Proceed with the process.

If you don’t get this message, you already have enough space for the update. If you’re still leery about Apple’s method or having apps deleted, other options are still on the table.

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Install the Update with iTunes

The trick to installing software updates to your iOS device without deleting anything is to take the old-fashioned route and install it through a tethered connection to iTunes. The difference between installing it this way instead of wirelessly on your device is that iTunes downloads the update in its entirety to your computer (which presumably has far more storage space) then transfers it to your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.

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Get out your handy Lightning or 30-pin cable and plug your iOS device into your computer’s USB port. Open iTunes and click your connected device icon toward the top.

Important: Before proceeding, I highly recommend checking under the Backups section to see when your last backup was. It doesn’t matter if the backup was to iCloud or iTunes, just make sure it was recent. If not, click Back Up Now in iTunes and perform a backup to avoid data loss in case something goes awry with the installation.

Then click Check for Update. If your software isn’t up to date, iTunes will prompt you to download and install the latest version. Give this anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. The iOS 9 installation isn’t complete until your iOS device says “Hello” on screen. When this appears, you’ve successfully installed iOS 9 without having to remove your entire life from your phone, so cheers to you.

Quickly Erase and Restore Everything with iCloud

Note: This method is for heavy iCloud users. If you perform regular backups through iCloud, keep your photos in iCloud Photo Library, music in iCloud Music Library, sync your notes, etc. then consider this option.

Similar to performing a clean install on a computer, this method has some potential benefits for your iOS device. You might notice a slight performance improvement or additional memory available. Make sure your latest iCloud backup is recent before continuing. Go to Settings > iCloud > Backup to see your latest backup. Tap Back Up Now if you aren’t comfortable with how long ago you backed up.

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Otherwise, navigate to Settings > General > Reset. Tap Erase All Content and Settings. You’ll have to enter your passcode and confirm that you wish to proceed.

Important: Final warning. This will completely erase everything on your iOS device. Even though you’ll be restoring data from a backup later on, you still may lose various settings or progress in games.

Your device shouldn’t take too long to erase. When it finishes and you’re asked within the setup process to restore data from a backup, skip that for now. When you reach the Home screen, go to Settings > General > Software Update and install the iOS 9 update. Since nothing is yet installed on your phone, you have plenty of space for the update.

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Let iOS 9 completely install. Now you should be once again back on the Home screen with the latest version of iOS, but still no apps or data. Finally, repeat the process above to erase all content and settings. You’ll go through the setup process once more and then this time, choose to restore from an iCloud backup.

Mission Possible!

Ta-da! At long last, you are running iOS 9 on a device that’s as fresh as ever. If you run into issues, post them on our forum, we can perhaps help you out.

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George Tinari

Written By

George Tinari

George Tinari has written about technology for over seven years: guides, how-tos, news, reviews and more. He's usually sitting in front of his laptop, eating, listening to music or singing along loudly to said music. You can also follow him on Twitter @gtinari if you need more complaints and sarcasm in your timeline.