How to speed up an iPhone

Lots of our readers would like to speed up a slow, old iPhone – it’s a common problem. If you’re still using an iPhone that’s two or more generations old, the chances are that it isn’t as nippy as it used to be.

The interface seems more sluggish, apps take longer to open or run – it just isn’t the swift device you remember. Maybe it’s been performing more slowly since you installed the latest version of iOS. Fortunately, there are some techniques we can use to speed up an ailing iPhone.

All computing devices are prone to slowing down over time, as their memory fills up and extra software is installed, but the way iPhones use their memory makes them less prone to this than most. It’s possible that it just feels slower than it used to, because you’ve got used to what initially seemed dazzlingly quick operation, or have started to compare it to friends’ newer, faster models.

But sometimes it’s possible to make a direct comparison: when there’s an app you used to enjoy but has since become unusably juddery.Here are some great methods to speed up an older iPhone and make it feel new again.

Is your iPhone up to date?

Apple’s most recent operating system for the iPhone and iPad is iOS 10. On older smartphones, it’s possible that upgrading will slow down your iPhone a bit, but on some occasions it may help it run faster – though bear in mind that older iPhone models may not be compatible with the latest iOS versions.

Check whether your iPhone is up to date by heading to Settings > General > Software update. At time of writing, the latest iOS 10 update is 10.3.1.

If you’re not sure how to get it up to date, check out our complete guide to updating iOS.

Shut down all open applications

If your software is up to date, it’s time to try a few fixes. Let’s start with an easy solution: closing down all non-essential apps.

Double-click the Home button to bring up the currently running apps in iOS 7 or later. Swipe upwards to close them. You can swipe with up to three fingers to speed up the process a little bit.

Irritatingly, there’s no way to close them all at once. We’re going to close down everything, then start again from scratch.

Restart your iPhone

Let’s restart the iPhone completely. Press and hold the Sleep button (the one on the top right of the iPhone on iPhone 5s and earlier, or on the right edge on iPhone 6 and later) until the Power Off slider appears. Swipe it and wait for the iPhone to power down.

Once it’s finished (it’ll take about 10 seconds or so), start the iPhone up again by pressing and holding the Sleep button for about 5 seconds. You’ll see the Apple icon, then the iPhone will restart.

You shouldn’t have to do this very often, but when you do it’ll clear out the memory and can often fix unruly apps. The occasional power cycle helps keep iOS ticking over.

Delete apps

Delete apps you don’t need by going to Settings > General > Usage and then tapping ‘Manage Storage’. You’ll now see a list of apps and how much space they’re taking up on your phone. You should aim to have at least 1GB space left, so delete any apps you don’t need by tapping on them, and then tapping ‘Delete App’.

Clear your Safari cookies and data

Let’s try emptying Safari’s data, cookies, and so on to free up some memory.

Open the Settings app and scroll down to Safari. Here you can choose ‘Clear History’ and ‘Clear Cookies and Data’. Bear in mind that Safari will no longer suggest URLs as you type, unless they’re bookmarked, and clearing the data may mean some websites forget your preferences.

Kill automatic background processes

Getting rid of automated features will help keep your iPhone running faster, and help extend your battery life as well. If you’re still running iOS 6, you can skip this step as Apple didn’t introduce these features until iOS 7.

Turn off Automatic Downloads. Tap Settings > iTunes & App Store > and turn Automatic Downloads off. If you spend a lot of time uploading Music, Apps and Books you might want to turn off those as well.

Turn off Background App Refresh. Tap Settings > General > Background App Refresh. Turn Background App Refresh off and tap Disable Background App Refresh.

Both of these are luxury items. You don’t need them and you’ll see a big boost in battery life as well as a noticeable increase in performance.

Turn down the graphics

Again, iOS 6 users can skip this step because it only relates to iOS 7 and later, which introduced some fancy new visual effects.

Turn off Motion. Tap on Settings > General > Accessibility > Reduce Motion and set Reduce Motion to On. This turns off the parallax effect of icons and alerts – many people also find the phone easier to use in this setting.

Increase Contrast. Tap on Settings > General > Accessibility > Increase Contrast and set Reduce Transparency to On. This disables the see-through background effects, which speeds up iOS 7 and later. It’s most noticeable on Control Centre which will now have a solid background and should work much faster.

Delete text messages

We’ll continue on our quest to free up memory by going through the Messages app and deleting everything that we don’t need to save.

Open Messages and scroll down to find any message threads that you can manage without. Swipe to the right and tap Delete. It’s worth noting that deleting threads with only text-based messages won’t free up much space on your device, so it’s worth concentrating on threads that include a lot of images, videos and, voice notes.

Click image for an enlarged view

There’s also a relatively easy way to stop the back-log of videos and voice notes building up in the Messages app. Simply open the Settings app, navigate to the Messages menu, scroll to the bottom and change the expiry of video messages and voice messages from ‘Never’ to ‘After 2 minutes’.

With this setting, any video/voice messages you send or receive from that device will automatically delete themselves after two minutes of being opened, which will keep your storage free and hopefully stop your friends saving your hilarious drunken videos and plastering them over Facebook.

Delete unnecessary songs, photos and videos

Okay, let’s get serious and free up a lot more storage. Open the Settings app, then tap General, and Usage, like you did when we were uninstalling apps. You’ll see how much storage space is left and which apps are using up most of the space.

If you’re anything like us, the top two culprits will be Music and Photos & Camera, because these apps’ storage usage includes music, images, and videos. We’d suggest keeping at least 1GB free just to make sure there’s some free space for iOS to shunt files around without having to do too much juggling.

Open the Music app and find the non-vital track, album or artist that you want to delete. Swipe to the right and press Delete.

Plug the iPhone into the Mac and open Image Capture (assuming you’ve not set it to open automatically when it detects an iOS device). Tick the option ‘Delete after import’ at the bottom left.

Click the photo you want to copy across, or select multiple consecutive photos using the Shift key, and drag and drop them into a folder on the Mac. You’ll see a green tick appear next to them in Image Capture, to show that they’ve been downloaded.

If there are any photos on there that you don’t want to keep but still want deleted from the iPhone, select them and click the red circle at the bottom. Image Capture will confirm you want to delete the photo.

Of course, you can also delete photos on the phone itself. Open the Photos app, find the images you want to delete, tap ‘Select’ and then tap on the images you want to delete. Then tap the bin icon and confirm to delete the photos and videos you’ve selected.

Reset your iPhone

A more drastic step than restarting the iPhone, a full reset takes longer but is a more effective way of solving problems with the way an iPhone is running.

Press and hold the Home and Sleep buttons at the same time. Keep holding them while the screen goes black (the red power-off slider may appear – if it does, just carry on holding the buttons), right up until the Apple logo appears. When that appears you can let go.

Restore from backup

The next stage after resetting the iPhone (getting steadily more drastic as we go) is to restore it from a backup.

If you’ve backed up recently, you can simply restore from that.

Plug the iPhone into the Mac and open iTunes. Click the iPhone (if you’ve plugged in more than one iOS device it may say ‘2 devices’ or similar instead). Under Backups, click ‘Restore Backup…’

Of course, since you’re using an old backup it’s going to undo all of the changes you just made to your device (deleting apps, removing unwanted music etc), so you may have to go through some of those steps all over again.

Restore to factory settings

Finally, the most drastic step of all: we’re going to perform a full restore, which deletes all the data on the iPhone and returns it, in effect, to the state it was in when you bought it. (Except that the hardware components will still have suffered a number of years of wear and tear, of course.)

Since we’re deleting all the data, it’s vitally important that you back up the iPhone: either back up to iTunes by connecting the phone to a computer as above; or to iCloud, by opening the Settings app, then scrolling down to iCloud, then Storage & Backup, then Back Up Now in iOS 6 or turn on iCloud Backup in iOS 7 or later.

Now you can restore the iPhone to its factory settings by going to Settings, General, Reset, Erase All Content and Settings. You’ll then have to enter your passcode if you’ve got one, and then confirm that you want to delete all media and data, and reset all settings.

After a few minutes of restoring, you’ll be presented with the welcome screen you saw when you first started up the iPhone.

Wait for iOS 11

If even that doesn’t do it, you might just have to suck it up and wait for Apple’s next major software update.

As a general rule of thumb with Apple devices, every major iOS update requires more and more power – it’s why every new iPhone has a faster processor than its predecessor. Apple tries to combat the issue of sluggish performance by only allowing devices that have sufficient power to run the new software.

However even with this rule in place, some users who have the least powerful of the ‘upgrade-capable’ iDevices find that they slow down, sometimes quite dramatically.

This being said, it may be a different story with iOS 11. In fact, many users reported their iPhone 5s and 5c iPhones running pleasantly well on iOS 10, which seems to have made running older hardware more efficient. More recently Apple has been making a conscious effort to improve stability and battery life in its iOS updates, which should also mean a boost in speed.

Check your warranty, and make an appointment with Apple

If none of the above techniques work, it’s time to decide whether the speed of your iPhone is a serious enough problem for you to take it up with Apple. If there’s a problem with a component, the issue may be covered by your Apple warranty if you have one – check out our guide to Apple iPhone replacements for more on your legal rights.

As we mentioned above, slowness can be a matter of perception, but if you’re sure something’s up, and you’ve tried all our tricks, you may wish to ask Apple if they can check for a hardware issue.

See our article on booking an appointment with Apple for more. But bear in mind that there may not be an easy solution.

The last resort – get a new iPhone

If Apple can’t help, or their help is too expensive to be worth it, we reach the final option: give up on your older iPhone and buy something newer. If you’ve reached that point, check out our iPhone buying guide to help figure out the right model for you.

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