Are you intentionally holding off on upgrading your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to iOS 7, perhaps until you’ve had a chance to look at someone else’s device to see if the visual changes will prove problematic? Maybe you’re unhappy about the requirement that you upgrade to iTunes 11.1 to be able to sync your Mac with your iOS device? Or perhaps you’re just hesitant to commit to an upgrade that you can’t back out of, since Apple has made downgrading to iOS 6 impossible, no matter how reasonable your issues with iOS 7 may be? (To be clear, I like many things about iOS 7; I just think it’s unacceptable to lock users into an upgrade if they have problems with it.)
Unfortunately, Apple’s zeal to encourage everyone to upgrade has resulted in an iOS 7 “tax” on the free space of some iOS 6 devices. In short, some people are discovering that iOS 7 itself has been automatically downloaded without having been requested. Once downloaded, it takes up a significant quantity of space on the device and can’t be easily removed. Thanks to alert reader Dave Laffitte for identifying this issue and running it down with Apple — I’ve been able to confirm his findings on my father’s iPhone 5.
To discover if iOS 7 has automatically been downloaded to your device, navigate to Settings > General > Software Update. In that screen, you’ll see one of three things. If your device is too old for iOS 7 — our old test iPhone 3GS, for instance — you’ll see a message telling you that you have iOS 6.1.3, and that your software is up to date. On a newer iPhone, though, you’ll see a screen advertising iOS 7.0.2, with one of two buttons underneath: “Download and Install” or “Install Now.”
In the former case, you’re fine — iOS 7 has not been downloaded to your iPhone already. But if all you have is the Install Now button, that means that iOS 7 has been downloaded and is ready to install.
If we were talking about a tiny update, like the move from iOS 7.0 to 7.0.2, which was a 21 MB download, that wouldn’t be a big deal. But iOS 7 itself is far larger. As you can see in the screenshot above, when you’re given the opportunity to download iOS 7.0.2, it claims to be 666 MB. (Really, Apple? The number of the beast?) But it could be larger — the iOS 7 golden master was a 1.2 GB download from Apple, iOS 7 says it needs at least 2.9 GB of space to install, and both Dave and my father report that the Other category in the iTunes space usage chart is 3 GB in size. Additional types of data live in that Other category — photos and videos attached to texts in Messages can cause it to balloon, in particular — but we’re pretty certain that the iOS 7 download makes up a good chunk of Other.
Regardless of the exact size, having Apple suddenly take over some significant amount of an iOS device for an update you don’t want isn’t a happy situation. Calls and Genius Bar conversations that Dave Laffitte has had with Apple indicate that it’s not intentional, nor is it happening to every iOS 6 device that could upgrade to iOS 7. Nonetheless, few Apple support representatives are aware of the problem, and only after calling AppleCare for a second time and asking for Customer Relations (as recommended by the Genius who was unable to help otherwise), did Dave get any useful information.
The Apple rep told Dave that the problem is related to using iTunes to back up and sync, at least on some devices, and indeed, on my son’s iPhone 4, which backs up to iCloud and almost never touches iTunes, iOS 7 was not automatically downloaded. (At first, it wouldn’t have been anyway, since he didn’t have enough free space for even a 666 MB download, but after we cleared some space, it still wouldn’t download automatically.) Other discussions indicate that there’s some combination of the device having Wi-Fi access and being charged that enables iOS updates to be downloaded; some people have prevented the problem by blocking mesu.apple.com at the router level, but that seems excessive. It’s also possible that having agreed to let iTunes download iOS updates silently could be related.
Regardless of why it’s happening, the workaround suggested to Dave by Apple was to back up to iCloud instead of iTunes, erase the device with Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings, and then restore from the iCloud backup. Obviously, a sync with iTunes will be necessary to restore media, but hopefully that won’t bring the iOS 7 update file back as well, and will somehow prevent iOS 6 from downloading the iOS 7 update again too. According to the Apple rep, restoring from the iTunes backup would result in iOS 7 being downloaded yet again.
It remains to be seen if this workaround will be successful over time, but if iOS 7 has been downloaded to your iOS 6 device and you’re troubled by the loss of space, it’s worth a try. Please let us know in the comments what you experience!