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Apple’s Photos app is eating my iPhone

I made a mistake last year. In a blind fit of ‘I need to get one now‘, I ordered the only iPhone 6 Plus I could lay my hands on in the wild. Unfortunately, it was the 16GB model – a size I haven’t flirted with for years having opted for the bigger 64GB brethren.

It’ll be fine, I thought. Storage just isn’t a ‘thing’ these days. I stream my music, I don’t store video files on my phone and I don’t care much for space-hogging apps and games. Apple’s Phil Schiller appeared to back up this theory recently, when he reassured John Gruber that there is still a place for the 16GB model of their smartphone; “…perhaps the most price-conscious customers are able to live in an environment where they don’t need gobs of local storage because these services are lightening the load,” he said, to no doubt ceaseless applause from the Apple-loving croud in attendance.

Brilliant. Only, not brilliant at all, because of one humungous flaw in Schiller’s plan: the Photos app. For reasons I cannot fathom, it devours storage at a rate that suggests it is taking part in some kind of sponsored food challenge of the data variety.

I take a few photos with my phone, but not very many at all. I’m a traditionalist and would rather reach for the DSLR. Videos? Probably one or two a year, which last about give seconds each.

I’ve also turned on iCloud Photo Library which promised to automatically store my entire photo collection online, so that it can be accessed from any Apple device. ‘Optimize iPhone Storage’ is also ticked, which I am reliably informed only keeps ‘optimised’ versions of photos on my iPhone. I hear phrases like ‘near-line storage’ which hint at a warm, cozy world where Apple devices take care of space requirements automatically in order to ensure the user never runs short.

All of this, as far as I can tell, is utter nonsense. As I look at my phone now, I have just 306MB left. The biggest culprit? Photos, which has digested a whopping 2.1GB of invaluable space on my 6 Plus.

A couple of days ago, I installed the iOS9 public beta and practically leapt for joy when I spotted 3.5GB of space available, post install. Photos was only using 500MB. Finally, I thought. They’ve fixed it. Only, no. That 500 soon became 1GB. Then 1.5GB until it reached where it is today.

Why? I haven’t even entered the Photos app since the update. I haven’t accessed any photos. What is it downloading to my device?

Clearly, ‘near-line storage’ ain’t as clever as it needs to be. If I hardly ever view photos on my iPhone, why doesn’t it make note of the fact and remove any locally-held copies until I request them? Worse still, why can’t I delete those photos en-masse myself? No option exists as far as I can tell.

Come on, Apple. For us to live in this cloud-centric world, we need a bit more intelligence from your software.

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