The Mystery of iCloud Photo Library storage

This is a curious case of photography, small iPads and the mysterious puzzle of Apple’s optimized storage.
The other month, I found an amazing deal on an iPad Mini 2 — $125 for a 32gb model — more than 60 percent off the retail price. I’ve been wanting a new iPad for a while — my iPad 3 is long past its retirement date. But I’ve been waiting for one of the new iPad Pros to be released later this year so I waited. But this deal was too good to pass up.

If I was buying the Pro, I would max out the storage. But this was a short-term solution I couldn’t pass up.

As a photographer, I have a lot of pictures on my iCloud Photo Library — about 695gb. Setting up my iPad, I was excited to have all my photos available, even in the cloud. I turned it on and waited for the photos to appear.

The problem

A couple days later, I received a notification that my iPad was almost out of storage. Strange. I Iooked at the settings and saw that the library was taking up 25gb. I checked to make sure the optimize storage setting was on. It was.

Maybe it needs some more space to finish syncing, I thought, and deleted some of the larger apps.

Next day, the iCloud library took up 28gb, leaving the iPad with just 400mb of free storage.

Shouldn’t the optimized storage deal with this? I wondered. Have some images cached, but not take up more than a third or even half of my storage. This was true with my 128gb iPhone 6.

Looking at Apple forums didn’t provide any clarity. The best I could surmise is that some photos and thumbnails of the others were downloaded. But what made up that 28gb was unknown. This wouldn’t work.

The solution

Running on low storage is never fun. What I’ve ended doing is setting up my iPad again, fresh.

I will have access to my phone 99.99 percent of the time I’m using my iPad. If I need access to a certain photo, I’ll look it up and AirDrop it to myself or share it to a private shared photo album. I’ve also turned on, for the first time since the Photos update, Photostream.

It’s not the ideal solution, but it gives me an iPad I can work with. I’d rather do this little workaround then having to deal with the annoyances of trying to free up space, which seems to be a losing battle.

I’m still left wondering: What’s in those gigabites stored on my iPad? Could thumbnails and metadata take up that much space? Hopefully, when I get an iPad Pro with maxed out storage, I won’t have to worry about it.

If it does, I don’t know what I’m going to do, delete photos? Yeah right.

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