iOS Application Bloat: Apple Has A Problem

iOS Application Bloat: Apple Has A Problem

Whenever a new version of iOS is announced, developers scramble to update their apps so they don’t become disabled. For iOS 11, this is particularly important as support for 32-bit applications is dying off. This is also the reason a bunch of older iOS devices will no longer be upgradeable to the latest iOS. Over the weekend, my iPhone 7 Plus had over 30 apps that needed updating. That’s a pain but I was amazed at how big those updates were.

Application bloat isn’t new. When I started using a PC back in the 1990s, a good sized hard drive was 120MB. And, as my hard drives became larger, they always seemed to fill up, even though I used, for the most part, updated versions of the same software. When I looked at the applications I had to update last night on my iPhone, the sizes ranged from around 16MB to almost 700MB. All up, I had in excess of 3GB of updates pending.

I get that Apple doesn’t allow incremental application updates and that when an app is updated by the developer that the entire package is replaced. But this comes at a cost to users.

Time spent on updates and bandwidth, while more accessible today than back in 2007 when the first iPhone was released, is not free. And there are plenty of people I know who won’t update their phones or any other devices on untrusted networks, or are limited to cellular connections for days or weeks at a time because of travel.

Updating apps is one of the most important defences we have against threat actors.

My suspicion is that as storage and computing power have become more plentiful, and developer tools allow more people to create applications that the motivation and skills to write tight code are no longer there. There was a certain discipline needed to create an application that had to run fast and fit on a system with 2MB of memory and a 120MB hard drive.

I understand that software development has changed significantly over the years. And we can now do a lot more with far more powerful hardware than ever before. But when a mobile app update is close to 700MB (and |it was an Apple app that topped the scales) then it seems to me that there’s a problem with the update process.


  • It’s not just that. The bloat of those apps and the way things have to be updated will also affect your backup file on iTunes as I recently found out. A few months ago I could sync and back up fine, but now I get an incompatibility error and it ends sync or any form of backup. After nosing around a little it seems my ssd was full because of the the sync backup. I had previously told the backup to go to a separate drive but somehow the residue of all the times it synced with iTunes still managed to clog the ssd because iTunes lives there. Following some instructions on how to remove and make a new backup, I quickly found out that because I have older apps that I never updated I am still getting that error even though the original backup does not exist anymore. This means apple is forcing you to update those apps to make iTunes work properly and I just don’t want to with some of them because their updates make them run worse.

    Yet another reason I am now done with iProducts and will be moving
    on to less crazy drm managed devices that are not Apple

  • As far as I was aware delta updates have been available since iOS 6 (see ).

    Having said that, it does tend to still show the size of the full app, rather than nicely specifying that a delta will be used.

    For example, I have been able to update Facebook over 3G as the deltas are available, it will warn you of this if you are not connected to WiFi, and generally still work and only download the delta changes.

    I would throw out there, that I think apps overall are becoming quite bloated… 266MB for messenger + 399MB for Facebook is a whole lotta app.

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