Help me to understand iCloud storage and iOS

My daughter’s 32GB iPad is not unexpectedly running out of storage. In trying to help, I’ve realised that the process of using cloud storage to save files to is not intuitive or self explanatory for me.

Basically, I would like to be able to set as many app and games as possible to save data on the cloud (ideally iCloud) instead of on device.

I guess my questions are:

  • To what extent is it possible to set iOS apps to save to iCloud or iCloud Drive instead of on device?
  • Does an app that syncs via iCloud (or other cloud) store data on device and sync via cloud, or does it only store in the cloud?
  • Are there any other ways of approaching the problem?


I wouldn’t think of iCloud as a storage space, rather a Sync service.

In the majority of cases, apps hold data locally and if icloud sync is part of the app, that data is then sync’d to the cloud (but data is not removed from the device after sync). This is usually to allow fast access to data and to negate lack of access to the internet.

Alternatively, under iCloud backup, data on the device is “backed up” to the cloud so that it can be restored to the same, or another, device if required.

Some apps (Photos being the best example off the top of my head) allow you to offload some data onto iCloud and not hold it on the device, but this is an app setting.

Sorry, but I don’t think it’s possible to do what you are wishing to achieve.

Thanks - that’s a v clear answer.

It seems that iOS is crazily not cloud first when it comes to productivity apps then.


Well, when it debuted, the approved way to move your documents between an iOS device and a Mac was to plug it in with a wire and use iTunes. :open_mouth:

As @geoffaire indicatred the model is to save stuff to local storage first and sync it to the cloud. However, if you run low on space it will start offloading stuff that’s been synced, but at least in my experience that process is not always entirely smooth.


I’ve always liked iCloud for being a sync service first and foremost, leaving you with full copies of everything everywhere. I much prefer it over what I see as the Google Drive model of cloud first and references or pointers locally for the most part.

Of course, in your situation, the latter would be preferable. Dropbox has made that an option (and maybe even it’s default option these days) — I think they call it selective sync. It doesn’t help for apps that only use iCloud, but it might help for some kinds of documents.

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I don’t think it’s crazy. Many “Cloud” services which have apps hold data locally, but the cloud is the True data when sync’d.

Yes this did come across as moany but I didn’t mean it that way. What I mean was, it’s quite normal to have a MacBook with a smaller storage capacity than you need (e.g. only 256GB) and work primarily from iCloud Drive using optimised cloud storage that Apple have developed. And it works brilliantly.

Likewise Chromebooks etc.

By crazy I mean it strikes me as surprising and slightly non sensical that after Steve Jobs went all in on cloud, iPads - newer, mobile - aren’t designed to work that way i.e always defaulting to save in an optimised iCloud Drive. More services money for Apple too!

iCloud works quite similarly on Macs and iPads in this regard. The document gets saved locally, its synced to the cloud, then, if the OS needs that disk space for something else, it starts purging stuff that’s already been uploaded to the cloud. The issues you’re seeing are probably because a 32gb device puts a lot more strain on this system than a 256gb device, rather than any underlying difference between the two OSes.