How Much iPad Storage Do You Need?

Picking out the right iPad model for your storage needs

The amount of storage space is one of the hardest decisions to make you pick an iPad model. It is difficult to judge just how much storage you'll need until you actually need that storage.

Apple expanded the storage of the entry-level iPad from 16 GB to 32 GB. While 16 GB was fine in the early days, apps now take up much more space, and with so many people now using their iPad to store photos and video, 16 GB just doesn't cut it anymore. But is 32 GB enough?

Two iPads showing storage capacities on each
Lifewire / Maddy Price

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 movies do I want on it? Do I want to store my entire photo collection on it? Am I going to travel a lot with it? And what type of games am I going to play on it?

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, Netflix only takes up 75 megabytes of space, which means you could store 400 copies of Netflix on that 32 GB iPad.

But Netflix is one of the smaller apps, and as the iPad becomes more capable, apps have become larger. Productivity apps and cutting-edge games tend to take up the most space. For example, Microsoft Excel will take up around 440 MB of space without any actual spreadsheets stored on the iPad. And if you want Excel, Word, and PowerPoint, you will use up 1.5 GB of storage space before you create your first document. Games can also take up a lot of space. Even Angry Birds 2 takes up almost half a gigabyte of space, although most casual games will take up far less.

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.

Apple Music, Spotify, iTunes Match and Home Sharing

Apple Music vs Spotify
image credit stilllifephotographer/Stone/Getty Images

Just as CDs were edged out by iTunes, digital music is being replaced by streaming subscriptions like Apple Music and Spotify.

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.

This is where storage space on your iPhone is a little different than the space you might use on your iPad. While it is tempting to download your favorite music to your iPhone so that there is no disruption if you drive through a dead spot in your coverage, you may mostly use your iPad when you are on Wi-Fi, freeing you from the need to download a bunch of music.

Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, Etc.

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 sign onto the hotel's Wi-Fi network.

Expanding Storage on Your iPad

iCloud on various apple devices
Apple Inc.

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 storage is through the cloud. While you can't store apps in cloud storage, you can store music, movies, photos, and other documents.

External hard drives that include an iPad app help to expand your storage. These solutions work through 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.

Use Cases for 32 GB Models

The 32 GB model is perfect for most of us. It can hold a good chunk of your music, a large collection of photos and a vast array of apps and games. This model is great if you aren't going to load it up with hardcore games, download your entire photo collection or store a bunch of movies on it.

And the 32 GB model doesn't mean you need to skip productivity. You have plenty of room for the entire Microsoft Office suite and a healthy amount of storage for documents. It is also easy to use cloud storage along with Office and other productivity apps, so you don't need to store everything locally.

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 probably be in the market for an iPad with higher storage capacity.

Use Cases for Larger Models

the room 3 ipad game

The 128 GB model is only $100 more than the base price for the iPad, and when you consider it quadruples the available storage space, it is a pretty good deal. This is a great model if you want to download your entire photo collection, download your music, not worry about deleting old games to make room for new ones and—especially—keeping the video on your iPad. We can't always have a Wi-Fi connection, and unless you pay for an unlimited data plan, streaming a movie over 4G will quickly use up your allotted space. But with 128 GB, you can store several movies and still have most of your storage space dedicated to other uses.

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. 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 may burn through 32 GB quicker than you might think.