How to decrypt your iOS devices

If you’ve owned your iPhone or iPad for a while, chances are there are apps, contacts, and settings that you no longer use or that aren’t serving you very well. This guide explains how to reclaim your notifications and your device’s storage.

Delete your unused apps

Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

I don’t need to tell you to delete apps you don’t use to free up space on your iPhone, but you may not know that iOS has a special tool to help you with this. You can access it by opening the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad, then tapping “General,” followed by “iPhone Storage” or “iPad Storage.” It might take a while for the interface to populate, but once it does, you’ll see a handy visual representation of how much of your device’s storage space you’ve spent on apps, photos, and other types of files. You’ll also see a list of all apps installed on your device, as well as how much space they’re taking up and when you last used them – all useful information you can use to decide what to delete.

Depending on the app, iOS gives you at least two options when you tap it. You can delete or “offload” the app and all associated data. In the latter case, iOS will remove the app from your iPhone or iPad, but leave your data untouched. So if you reinstall the app, you can pick up where you left off. It also stays in your app library for easy access. From the iPhone storage menu, you can also set your device to automatically delete unused apps when you’re running low on storage space, which is useful for everyone, but especially those with older devices with little storage space.

Screenshots of the Apple Music and Messages sections in the iPhone Storage utility.

Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

If you use Apple Music and Messages often, tap on them as they offer a few extra options to manage their footprint. The interface for Apple Music lists every download on your iPhone or iPad, sorted by artist and album, offering a much better way to clean up your library than from within the app itself.

Messages, meanwhile, has a few handy options for serial texters. At the bottom of the interface, you will see a summary of all the different attachments you may have received in messages with your friends and family. Seeing how much storage space those old photos, videos, and GIFs take up can be eye-opening; in fact, iOS will ask you to view large attachments. That’s a good place to start, as the interface does a good job of highlighting the biggest space eaters right at the top. You can also set iOS to automatically delete messages and attachments older than a year. Unless space on your device is absolutely of a concern, I recommend that you don’t enable this option, if only because it could delete a photo or video that has sentimental value to you.

If you’ve had an iPhone for a while, chances are your contact list could use an edit. Unless you plan on calling everyone on that list one day, why not delete the contacts you no longer speak to? Your iPhone gives you an edge by identifying suspicious duplicate contacts. Other than that, there’s not much to this process other than going through each contact and making sure the information you have is up to date.

Check your notification settings

Screenshots showing how to access the Scheduled View feature.

Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

Something everyone should do every now and then is check their notification settings, as alerts can drain your device’s battery (not to mention they often distract your attention from more important things). To get started, open your device’s Settings app and tap “Notifications.” If you haven’t already, I recommend taking advantage of iOS 15’s Scheduled Summary feature. Let’s face it, most notifications don’t need your immediate attention, and you’re better off dealing with them all at once rather than piece by piece. The scheduling feature helps you with that by allowing you to set a few times a day when your device shows a few notifications at a time.

For most people, that should make their notifications more manageable, but if you want to take it a step further, you can adjust individual settings for each app. For some of the worst offenders (think Instagram and Twitter), it’s worth going to their in-app settings to limit or disable the notifications they send you.

Focus Modes

Screenshots showing how to access the Focus Mode functionality of iOS.

Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

Another tool you can use to get to grips with your notification is Apple’s Focus feature, which lets you configure custom do-not-disturb settings for various activities. Your device comes with a few pre-configured devices as standard, and it’s worth checking out the settings for each to optimize them for your needs.

To create a new custom focus mode, open the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad and tap “Focus,” which is in the same subcategory as notifications. You can also create a new focus mode right from your device’s Control Center by long-pressing the “Do Not Disturb” icon and tapping “New Focus.”

Once you’ve created a new Focus, customizing it is easy. You can specify contacts you want iOS to silence or allow notifications for. You can also do the same for apps. After customizing those lists to your liking, tap the “Options” prompt under your contacts and apps lists to see a few additional settings. In particular, there is an option to show muted notifications on your lock screen which you may find useful.

The last thing I want to draw your attention to is the options for customizing your home screen for different focus modes. By limiting the apps that I can easily access, I find that I am less likely to get distracted. For example, I set my reading focus to limit my home screen to apps like Libby, Pocket, and Apple Music.

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