How Much iPad Storage Do You Need?

Picking Out the Right iPad Model For Your Storage Needs

The entire iPad family: Pro, Air and Mini. Image © Apple, Inc.

The amount of storage space is one of the hardest decisions to make when deciding on an iPad model.  Most of the other decisions like going with a Mini, an Air or the absolutely huge iPad Pro can be made based on personal preferences, but it is difficult to judge just how much storage you'll need until you actually need that storage.    And while it is always tempting to go with the higher storage model, especially now that the 64 GB model is only $100 more than the base model, many of us would be quite happy with that 16 GB entry-level iPad.

Compare all of the different iPad models with one handy chart.

What to think about when deciding on an iPad model

Here are the main questions you will want to ask yourself when picking out an iPad model: How much of my music do I want to put on the iPad? How many photos and movies do I want on it?  Am I going to travel a lot with it?   And what type of games am I going to play on it?

Surprisingly, the number of apps you want to install on the iPad may be the least of your worries. While applications may take up the majority of storage space on your PC, most iPad apps are relatively small in comparison. For example, Spotify takes up 85 megabytes (MB), Angry Birds 2 is 113 MB and Netflix is only 38 MB.  

What do these numbers mean?  

The 16 GB entry-level iPad model has around 12.5 GB free with no third-party applications downloaded on it and no pictures, movies, music, etc.  The operating system and the default apps take up about 3.5 GB.

 After this is taken into account, you could download Angry Birds 2 over one hundred times and still have a little bit of space left over.   And you could download Netflix over three hundred times.  

But not every app takes up so little room.  Productivity apps and cutting edge games tend to take up more space.

 Microsoft Word will use 322 MB, which is three times the amount Angry Birds 2 uses, and iMovie takes up 647 MB, which is about twice as much as Word.  Infinity Blade III is considered one of the top console-rivaling games on the iPad in terms of both complexity and graphics.  It will use up almost 2 GB of space, which means you could only download Infinity Blade III a total of six times before running low on storage space on that 16 GB model.

This is why anticipating how you will use the iPad is important in figuring out the right storage space model.  And we haven't even talked about the photos, music, movies and books you may want to store on the device.  Luckily, there are ways to reduce the space taken up by many of these items.

Apple Music, Spotify, iTunes Match and Home Sharing

Do you remember when we used to buy our music on CDs?  As someone who grew up in the age of cassette tapes, it is sometimes hard for me to imagine that many of the current generation have only known digital music.  And the next generation many not even know that.  Just as CDs were edged out by iTunes, digital music is being replaced by streaming subscriptions like Apple Music and Spotify.   

The good news is that these services allow you to stream your music from the Internet, so you don't need to take up storage space to listen to your tunes.

 You can also use Pandora and other free streaming apps without a subscription.   And between iTunes Match, which lets you stream your own music from the cloud, and Home Sharing, which lets you stream music and movies from your PC, it's easy to get by without loading up your iPad with music.

Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, Etc.

The same thing can be said for movies.  I've already mentioned that Home Sharing will let you stream a movie from your PC to your iPad, but with so many subscription services for streaming movies and TV to your iPad, you may not even need to do that much.  This is especially true on the eve of DvDs and Blu-Ray following the CD into the post-digital vacuum.  Movies you buy on digital stores like iTunes or Amazon are also available to stream to your iPad without taking up the space.  

However, there is one big difference between music and movies:  The average song takes up about 4 MB of space.  The average movie takes up around 1.5 GB of space.  This means if you are streaming over a 4G connection, you'll quickly run out of bandwidth even if you have a 6 GB or 10 GB data plan.   So if you want to stream movies while on vacation or traveling for business, you'll either need enough space to download a few before your trip or you will need to stream them in your hotel room where you can (hopefully) sign onto the hotel's Wi-Fi network.

How to Connect Your iPad to Your TV

Expanding storage on your iPad

The iPad may not allow you to plug in a thumb drive or a micro SD card to expand your storage, but there are ways you can increase the amount of storage available to your iPad.  The easiest way to expand the storage is through cloud storage.  Dropbox is a popular solution that allows you to store up to 2 GB for free.  This can also be increased for a subscription fee.   And while you can't store apps in cloud storage, you can store music, movies, photos and other documents.   

There are also external hard drives that include an iPad app to help expand your storage. These solutions work via Wi-Fi.  Like cloud solutions, you cannot use the external drive to store apps, and it may not be a practical form of storage while outside of the house, but you can use these drives to store music, movies and other media files that can take up a lot of space.  

Find Out More About Expanding Your iPad Storage

You will want the 16 GB model if...

If you plan to use the iPad casually and can skip loading it up with a bunch of music and movies, the 16 GB model should be just fine.   You will still have plenty of rooms for apps, and if your idea of a good game is Candy Crush or Words With Friends, you shouldn't find yourself in need of a lot of storage.  You will be able to browse the web, check up on Facebook, read email and load your iPad up with a lot of books without worrying about space.

And the 16 GB model doesn't mean you need to skip productivity.  You could download the entire Microsoft Office suite (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) ten times and still have some space left over for documents created using those apps.  

it is important to remember that photos and home videos can take up space as well.  iCloud Photo Library allows you to store most of your photos in space, but if you want to use your iPad to edit the home videos you take on your iPad or iPhone, you will need the storage space to do it.  And videos can quickly add up.

Check out the 16 GB iPad Air 2 on Amazon 

You will want the 64 GB or 128 GB model if...

If you want to have a good chunk of your media (movies, music, etc.) loaded on your device, you will find out that 16 GB is rather small when it comes to HD movies.   You might be able to get away with one or two and still have room for a decent sized music collection and some apps, but it might be safer to go with an iPad that has a bit more elbow room.  Remember, there are plenty of ways to stream movies on the iPad, so this is just for those who want to save specific movies to their iPad.

Gamers may also want to go with a model with more storage space.  The iPad has come a long way since the days of the original iPad and the iPad 2, and it is quickly becoming capable of console quality graphics.   But this has a cost.  While the 1 GB app was rare several years ago, it is becoming a lot more common among the more hardcore games on the App Store.  Many games are even hitting the 2 GB mark.  If you are planning on playing some of the best games available, you will burn through 16 GB quicker than you might think.

And how you plan to use the iPad can also make a big difference.  I've already covered how editing home movies can eat through storage space.  Musicians that want to load their iPad up with great music creation software may also run into storage limitations as well between the space the songs will take up to all of the samples used to make that music.  

If you are buying a used or refurbished iPad, you may still have the option for a 32 GB model.  This is a great choice for many people.   It can hold several movies, a big music collection, your photos and lots of great games without using up that space.   

Shop for the 64 GB iPad Air 2 on Amazon

I'm still unsure which model to purchase...

Many people will be fine with the 16 GB model, especially those not into gaming who don't plan to load a lot of movies onto the iPad. But if you are unsure, the 64 GB iPad will give you plenty of elbow room.  Now that Apple has dropped the 32 GB model and put the 64 GB model in its place, it is much easier to justify the extra $100 in exchange for quadruple the storage space.

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