I recently caught the Counting Crows live. The band played at an outdoor amphitheater. iPhones were everywhere, capturing concert footage, and I couldn’t help noticing that several of them had cracked displays. I also saw some video records fail, potentially because the device ran out of disk space.

A memorable concert, critical business meeting, or important conference is no time to have an iPhone or iPad flake out. Neglect catches up with you. It’s important to maintain iPhones and iPads, just as it is servers and workstations. Yet, many business users don’t bother.

Why too many apps are a problem

The more apps that are loaded on an iPhone or iPad, the less space becomes available for other critical programs and application data. The more apps that are installed, the greater the chance a program goes sideways and introduces performance bottlenecks or outright freezes and locks up. Update installation time and frequency increase dramatically, plus corresponding backup time and required disk space (on the system backing up the iPhone or iPad) grow as well.

Common problem

The problem of too many apps arises because loading applications is easy. After all, you just have to tap a few buttons. It’s common to be offsite — outside of work or traveling — and require one-time access to a single mapping program, proprietary app, or other tool. While it’s easy to remember to load an app at the moment the program or its information is desperately needed, it’s another thing entirely to remember to perform maintenance and clean a device of old programs that are no longer needed.

How many apps are really necessary?

Obviously, the number of apps you really requires depends on your profession, whether you use an iPhone or iPad in addition to a laptop or desktop, and the level of mobility your professional responsibilities demand. I wish it were as easy as saying a physician needs 11 apps or stating that a marketing representative requires one wire-framing app, one mind-mapping program, one note-taking utility, one document app, etc… but it’s not that simple.

However, here’s what I do know. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll likely realize that you don’t require four different note-taking apps. One app can fulfill all your note-taking demands.

I’m still amazed when friends, family, or clients present an iPhone or iPad for repair and they possess seemingly endless screens of apps, often a half-dozen different map programs or restaurant review apps.

Another potentially good rule? If you haven’t used an app for three months, get rid of it. You can always reload it later, if necessary.

Trim the fat

From your iPhone or iPad, periodically (say, quarterly) review the apps that are loaded. Take a hard look at whether you really need Word and Pages (it turned out that I didn’t). Decide whether you really need Google Maps, now that the Apple Maps app has improved turn-by-turn directions that Siri provides by Bluetooth while driving, especially if you’re exhausting free space and need to clear up resources for other applications and data.

Review your iTunes backups, too (you are making iTunes backups, right?). When your iPad or iPhone is connected to iTunes, click on the device and the corresponding iTunes App tab will display not only the applications that are stored on the device (and subsequently backed up on the Mac) but the size of those apps. Simple Remove buttons are also provided to make it easy to discard old programs that you no longer need (the removal takes effect the next time the device is synced with iTunes). Note that, if you select Apps from directly within the iTunes Library and select Delete, the App is also deleted from your Mac and can no longer be easily restored, should you change your mind.

What other ways do you clear free space on your Apple device and keep it running efficiently? Share your tips and tricks in the discussion thread below.

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