Mysterious Other

Many people have had problems updating their iOS device to iOS 8 because they don’t have enough space. The weird thing is that many of us have plenty of space, except there’s a mysterious padding of yellow marked “Other” that is, well, unknown.

This has been going on for quite a while, and after some prodding from Wave and Gruber, I figured it was time to do some research. So, in pictures, here’s what I found. I started out by attaching my iPad mini to my Macbook and resetting it to basic settings. This wiped everything out of it, and updated the software to 8.1, which was dandy. It also meant that I had nothing much at all on the machine. Here’s what you see (and I did full screenshots so you can see the date and times of this, as the experiment lasted overnight).

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 4.24.11 PM

That bar along the bottom is the thing. I had the apps that come installed with the OS and nothing else on this, except for a few photos and such.  Here’s what my iPad showed for usage, both summary and itemized:

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Everything seems fine. Now, to figure out what is filling the space, I did what I like to do when my TV is busy doing other things, and I want to watch a movie, maybe a TV show, from iTunes – I stream it to my iPad. So for this, I chose X-Men: Days of Future Past, and watched that, which took a couple hours. Here’s what I get after:

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In the first screen shot, I’ve gone from having 10.0 GB available to having only 5.5 GB available. And if we look at the size of the movie file from iTunes, guess how big it is. Yep, 4.5 GB. But notice that the second screenshot, which was taken at the same time, doesn’t show any change. In fact, Movies aren’t listed at all, still, even tho I watched one.

So I decided to watch another. Time for “V for Vendetta” because who doesn’t love that? I know, everyone loves it. So after a few hours, I thoroughly remember the 5th of November, but I still wonder about that mysterious other. So again, into the usage and here’s what I found:

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Now I’m down to a gig and nothing has changed on my itemized list. Well damn. Let’s watch Captain America: The Winter Soldier next because I enjoy the film and it’s getting late. So I fired that up.

Right about the time I get to the scene where Cap is taking on the terrorist on the boat, I get this notification:

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We all knew this was coming. Cap definitely weighs in at more than a gig, and that’s all the free space we had. But this is just a warning. The video still plays a bit more.

“You have three.”

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The video is done. Nothing more will play. At this point in the movie, which if I hadn’t seen it before I would have been livid that it stopped there, the action is just heating up, but I can’t play it. It’s failing. Stuttering and then just playing a bit of audio, then stopping completely.

So here’s where it gets interesting. I checked the usage again:

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Now down to a measly 208 MB, but the itemized usage hasn’t changed. Not good.

I go back to the video and try to watch it again. I get a few minutes farther, to this point:

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“Wanna see my lease?”

No, but I’d really like to know why video is becoming “other” and why I can’t delete it. That’s the only explanation. And with only 207 MB left, the iPad is not working well. But I decide to try to install a couple apps to see if I can get anything working. So I look for Facebook, and I can’t find it, but I install Facebook Messenger:

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And here’s the screenshots of my two springboard pages:

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Again, not much there. But let’s see if we can install anything.

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Huh, it seems it’s going to install. That’s cool. But what the hell, where’s the actual Facebook App? I go into Settings to see:

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I have no idea, and solving that problem is beyond the scope of this article, but something is weird there. Anyway, it’s not the only weird thing. Now that I’ve installed an app, check out the Usage stats:

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Wait, what? I have free space again? I install a random app, and finally the OS deletes some mysterious other to be able to install stuff? This is new. So I decide to watch Captain America again, because I want to know if I’ll get all the way through it – and I did!

But wait, what’s the usage at now?

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And other than the new app being in place, the itemized screen really hasn’t changed. So I came to my desk and got another screenshot:

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Now, full disclosure, I knew this was the problem with what creates the mysterious other in the OS, and is causing so many issues. Now, I used to have a developer account I could access to see the names of the files that made up any particular category, and that’s how I knew what was causing this issue. The only new thing was that installing an app apparently deleted some of the other, but not all of it. And it’s very simple to fill it back up. It’s a bug, and easily reproducible, so I’m hoping that Apple fix it.

50 thoughts on “Mysterious Other

  1. love the article…but for us non-technical folk, what’s the actual problem? why does Other plague us all so?

  2. My 2 year old constantly has shows freeze up because of this problem. He likes to to skip back and forth from one show to another. This only occurs when streaming content from iTunes. Netflix does not have this problem. It’s extremely annoying.

  3. Did you check “Other” between each movie?

    Someone needs to write an app to clear out this mysterious no man’s land of storage.

    I vote that the app name should be “Other Fucker”.

  4. I did, and now that the site isn’t completely fireballed, you can see the progression of the data. I didn’t bring it back to my computer, tho, the mysterious missing space is always listed as ‘other’.

  5. There are a variety of other (heh) things that can cause the Other storage space to inflate and stay that way. Here’s a couple guides:
    http://appducate.com/2013/01/reclaim-other-storage-space-on-ipad-iphone-and-ipod/
    http://osxdaily.com/2013/07/24/remove-other-data-storage-iphone-ipad/

    Most of the instances I’ve seen were 95% Messages. iOS 8’s improvements in this regard will eventually become a lifesaver.

    There is also one particular thing that can make it get “stuck”, that I’ve seen a number of times in person. Apparently there was a bug in the way Messages stored images and other multimedia attachments back in early iOS 6 versions (I think), where even if you delete all of the messages threads, you can still end up with a large amount of storage used up in Other, which is actually these “lost” Messages.

    Unfortunately, if you happened to get bitten by this, the problem will also be included in backups, so backing up and restoring won’t help. You can, of course, wipe the device and not restore a backup, but who wants to do that. I’ve used this technique myself though to recover over a GB of Other space on some devices, when deleting the Messages threads and other steps didn’t help:

    http://www.igeeksblog.com/how-to-clear-message-imessage-cache-on-iphone-ipad/

  6. Most of those issues have been cleared in iOS 8, and I’ve not run into those versions in months. This bug, however, is constant and doesn’t seem to be getting fixed. Good to know there are other things out there, tho.

  7. @Philippe: It is usual in UK english to use plural verbs with band names and corporations “…Apple fix it”. It is usual in US english to use singular verbs “…Apple fixes it”. Let’s not snipe each other correcting what is perfect valid regional English.

  8. I’ve found that deleting MUSIC from the itemized usage list deleted all of my movie streaming cache and returned my free space.

  9. This is certainly a problem. My kids always have iTunes movies freeze up on them. I usually end up telling them to just watch a movie in Netflix or Amazon because the problem does not occur there.

  10. I got a similar problem using iTunes Match in iOS 7. It was hard to tell for sure, but I think songs I deleted were just punted to Other and not actually removed. For me at least, iOS 8 seems to have fixed it.

  11. I ran into this problem a while back. iTune will put all the data on your device as you stream a movie or tv show. When the show completely finishes it releases the storage the movie took up on your device. So if you watch a movie or show and don’t completely finish a movie or tv show it sits in “other” until you either finish the movie or move the timeline to the end and let it finish or move the time line to the very beginning. You can also go to the storage for music or movies and delete all the content. Even if it’s a movie you may need to delete the contents in music

  12. Re fix/fixes: “Apple fix it” is correct in US English, while “Apple fixes it” is correct in British English.

  13. Well, I suppose it’s a bit smarter than Youtube, go back 30 seconds and you have to buffer again even though you just watched that. Seems it holds on to the movies a bit long though.

    I never stream movies on my iPad (or iPhone) though and I’ve got over 2GB of “Other”… How I wish the device and/or iTunes would just tell you exactly what all that was.

  14. Same thing happen to me with Tumblr app. Apparently it likes to storage all the photos you see in the app as “other” and it reaches to the point of be many gigabytes. I had to delete the app few times in the past because of this. And yes, they should fix soon.

  15. Let’s say that Apple practices what it preaches and uses the cool NSURLSession to do the movie downloads. These downloads are probably being stored in a /tmp directory. As is with a lot of /tmp directory implementations, the process that wrote the file, is responsible to delete the item – and it makes sense for the Movie player not to delete it given that it may anticipate that you’ll want to watch the last bit of the credits again or something. Regardless, the files may be left in there, until – again /tmp implementations I’m familiar with do this – a reboot will clear out the /tmp directory.

    So, can you restart your iPad and see if it regains some of its storage space?

  16. This problem is for more than just streaming videos. Downloading music from iTunes Match will cause this, and sometimes doing nothing at all will cause the Other bar to balloon. This has been happening on my devices since iOS 7.0.

  17. First, thank you for running this bit down — I’ll use the “force it to cough it up” approach until the bug is fixed.
    And, another observation, suggesting another problem:
    I also had had a full iPad for a while (4 @ 64GB), and after Gruber’s post I went and did a little restoring to see if I could free it up. I had 1GB free to start, and about 25GB or so of “Other” (I know, how did I ever let it come to that!?) Anyway, the first restore, I got about half of the “Other ” back, and about half it stayed as “Other”! On the second restore, “Other” desended to a few tens-of-MBs — but all of it was reallocated to “Photos”; and the number of photos didn’t change.
    So, there appears to be a bug relating to the photo storage representation as well. Whether it is simply misclassifying some photos (or a photo stream?) or whther there is some old photo-related-cruft getting stuck and not deleted, remains to be seen.

  18. I have had the same problem with both my iPhone and my iPad…not to that extreme…but I don’t watch movies on either device. The closest I get is some YouTube videos once in awhile (so it must be more than just movies). The genius at my local Apple Store says a lot of that is due to bad coding of apps. He says Facebook among others are notorious for this. The app may be 100 MG, but after time, in usage it appears to be much more than that (which apparently would be in ‘other’). Sometimes a lot more! I’m not saying he is right or wrong, but the only way I have found to get ‘other’ down is to reset my device back to factory settings (a new device). I wish Apple would state somewhere how to fix this.

  19. “that Apple fix it” might sound better to you, but it isn’t grammatically correct. It should be either “that Apple fixes it” or “that Apple will fix it.”

  20. I am familiar with this problem. Every iOS App has its own temporary folder. It sounds exactly like the Movies App on iOS 8.1 is not clearing the temp folder and is caching the iCloud video that you watched in the temp folder. Each time appending the storage use till you are almost at capacity. When you install a new App and space is low, then iOS automatically empties all the Apps temp folders to free space or until enough space is freed.

    This happens to bite the “Good for Enterprise” App (a highly secure cross platform BlackBerry like corporate email solution) as they store their encrypted data in the temp folder precisely because it’s not backed up or otherwise accessible for an offline copy to be made. That prevents a brute force attack on their encryption or other forensic analysis. But if a user fills up an iPhone (especially an 8GB model) with a thousand photos and then install a new App when almost full, the “Good for Enterprise” encrypted store is flushed and the user has to contact their IT support to re-activate their access to corporate email.

    Multiple people should file a bug report with Apple to ensure it gets resolved. The bug is with streaming videos from iTunes/iCloud on iOS doesn’t clear the temp folder within the iOS Movies App. It just downloads the movie, puts it in temp, starts playing after its buffered enough and then when the movie is done, the temp storage is not cleared. From an engineering standpoint It can be argued to keep it for a period of time, etc. Perhaps a button or option to clear the cache is in order, etc. Better to leave it to the engineers to decide on the best way to address the problem.

    https://developer.apple.com/bug-reporting/using-bug-reporter/

  21. I have had the same problem using iTunes Match where I would go from 5gb free to empty after streaming music for a half hour. It seems to have fixed itself but I currently have 4gb of other which I think is from a movie I rented. I will have to try installing an app to see if that helps.

  22. It’s only grammatically incorrect if you view Apple as a single entity, which it is decidedly not. It is a massive team of people who work on these things, and as such, I hope those teams fix it. Pedantic fights aside, thank you for giving a fuck. I’m fresh out

  23. No, as I showed in the beginning of the article, the iPad was wiped clean of everything, so the only things that were done was watching movies and I showed the progress as the movies became the mysterious other.

  24. Restarting has no impact on the size of the mysterious other. Which I’m just going to call MO from here on out. Only resetting it by re-installing the OS is going to remove the MO.

  25. Deleting the app is a great(ly shitty) way to have to deal with this, but given that you can’t delete the stock Videos app, even this crap solution isn’t viable.

  26. Not after I figured out that for some reason my iPad adopted the settings from my iPhone and wasn’t turning itself off in 3 minutes. Once I adjusted that back, it’s been fine.

  27. Not sure I follow, sorry for my English . You clean the iPad but after was the movie there or it was on iCloud which would have to be downloaded to play ?

  28. That’s not the case, as I let the movies play through to the end of the files, and the system fall back to the “want to watch a video” state. They were completely finished, with nothing left to view. As for your second point, you need to actually look at the screen shots above and see that THERE ARE NO OPTIONS to do anything with Videos because the MO doesn’t actually get owned as data space by the app, otherwise yes, I would have deleted the contents. You can see this in the consecutive screenshots showing capacity and then the itemized list of apps using that capacity. Simple math shows you that something is wrong.

    Now, if the app that produced the MO still owned the MO and we could delete it via the interface, that would be awesome.

  29. I don’t have any music on my iPad tho. I don’t want to install some to delete it and have the cache clear. It should be better managed.

  30. Not liking this. Only a few peeps will actually file a bug report with Apple. Others’ responses are to get a larger storage device.

    I never streamed video on my iPhone 5 though, but I do know “other” is quite large. Is it because of the music I temporarily download, say, view my Starbucks free song of the month? Are you certain that a backup from restore won’t work? Whenever, I do a restore, it seems like there is less consumed storage space.

    How can we check to see what’s sucking it up? Do you need to jailbreak? What about those running iOS lower than 8x? It sounds like that if anything, you need to install the latest update to run this patch, should it come available. I mean, I doubt Apple will release iOS 7.1.3?

  31. Can a program like iExplorer.app (on OS X) help track down (and delete) some of these files until Apple fixes this? You can access the tmp/ directory that many iOS apps have.

    Or maybe it’s not completely a bug. Apple is probably trying to intelligently manage this storage and it’s hard to get the parameters just right. Just because you finished watching a movie doesn’t mean you might not want to go back and watch some scene again, and you wouldn’t want to have to wait for the whole film to download again. Perhaps they keep it until your rental expires unless the space is needed for app installation.

  32. A restore from a backup works fine – it completely deletes the MO and you get a clean slate. And yes, it’s your music that you’ve streamed in the past not being deleted correctly. As for what you need to see it, I still can’t recall. Ugh.

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