Photos storage varies dramatically between devices

The Photos app on my 128GB iPad Pro consumes 35.54GB on the device. All photos are automatically uploaded and stored in iCloud Photos and I have Optimize iPad Storage turned on.

The Photos app on my 128GB iPhone XR consumes 1.3GB! Again, all photos are automatically uploaded and stored in iCloud Photos and Optimize iPhone Storage is turned on.

Photos consumes 30.7GB in iCloud Storage, less than what’s consumed on my iPad!

All the same photos are available on both devices. So why is there such a stark difference in the amount of storage consumed on the devices? Is there any way to reduce the Photos storage on my iPad, without permanently deleting photos everywhere?

From Manage your photo and video storage: “With Optimize Storage, smaller, space-saving photos and videos are kept on your device while all of your original, full-resolution versions are stored in iCloud.”

Your iPhone doesn’t have the full-resolution versions of most of the content but it sounds like your iPad does. How much free space do you have on your iPad and iPhone? If the iPad more free space compared to the iPhone, that may be why the algorithm hasn’t discarded the local full-resolution versions. There could be other reasons why Optimize Storage would keep more local on one compared to the other (e.g. maybe it keeps more local on devices without a data plan).

The iPad could have made a mistake, you could try turning the iPad’s Optimize Storage off and back on, to see if it thins out what’s stored locally (it may not make an immediate change). Since it seems like it’s already storing a full copy of everything already, I don’t think there could be any harm in trying this.

The iPhone XR is using a total of 25.7GB of its 128GB total; that’s 20%, leaving 80% free. The iPad Pro is using a total of 90.6GB of its 128GB total; that’s 70%, leaving 30% free. The iPad is not on the verge of running out of storage; so perhaps Apple sees no reason to do an automatic purge.

The only way to turn off Optimize iPad Storage is by turning on Download and Keep Originals! That could be detrimental to the goal of reducing storage use if Optimize iPad Storage is not feeling motivated to purge full resolution images.

Below the Optimize option, there’s an explanation: “If your iPad is low on space, full-resolution photos and videos are automatically replaced with smaller, device-sized versions.”

I wonder what “device-sized” means. Perhaps it means the iPad, having a larger display, keeps larger photos than the iPhone XR, with its smaller display. Still, the screen size ratio is not 35:1! It’s close to 2:1 in terms of the number of pixels.

That’s not the problem, obviously. The problem is that the iPad has not offloaded full resolution images. There might be no way to force it to do that.

Since the iPad is already using 35.54GB but there’s only 30.7GB in iCloud Storage, don’t you think the iPad already has the full resolution versions so turning off Optimize wouldn’t trigger downloading much of anything?

Did most of the content start on the iPad, either created on it or present there when iCloud was first enabled? Maybe the originating device keeps the full resolution version until there’s a need for space when Optimize kicks in; on non-originating devices, iCloud only syncs a “device-sized” version.

Yes, I think “device-sized” means a scaled image appropriate to the size of the particular display. I would also expect those versions to be two times larger, maybe three, on an iPad Pro than an iPhone XR.

I can’t say for sure what percentage of images originated on the iPad. My guess is that most of them originated on my old iPhone 6. The iPad is not a great device to use as a camera—too big and unwieldy to use that way. Vacation and travel photos were all taken with an iPhone.

I can’t imagine an explanation for why the iPad has nearly 5 GB more used photo storage than iCloud, which presumably has all full resolution images. Unless, because most of the photos were shot on a smaller iPhone 6, the “device-size” version kept on the iPad is actually larger than the original. Perhaps the Optimize option is doing the opposite of what is intended, due to where the photos originated.