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Home / iPhone / iPad / The Definitive Guide to Backing Up Your iPhone or iPad

The Definitive Guide to Backing Up Your iPhone or iPad

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What would you do if you lost or broke your iPhone tomorrow? Assuming your iPhone is never coming back, you have two options: restore the backup you made, or start over from scratch.

Nobody likes catastrophic data loss, but it happens. Fortunately, you can safeguard against the unthinkable by putting a backup plan into action.

Protect your personal data, Camera Roll, contacts, and more with regular iPhone backups. Here’s what you need to know to do that.

Why Back Up Your iPhone?

Does the thought of losing your iPhone make you feel a little sick? It’s not just the monetary value, since you can replace the hardware. All the data that lives on your smartphone that you’ll never get back is much more valuable.

For most of us, this means personal photos and videos stored in the Camera Roll. And that’s not all: you’d lose documents and other data used by your apps. If you create Pages documents on the go that aren’t stored in iCloud, they’d be gone. If you’re creating art with Procreate on your iPad Pro and you haven’t exported, you’ll lose it.

back up iphone - Broken iPhone Screen

Fortunately, many services do have cloud backup now, including Apple’s Notes app and third-party productivity tools like Evernote. Despite this, setting up your device all over again and downloading each app manually is a chore.

You can avoid much of this hassle by creating a backup. When the time comes, you can restore your device using the backup you created and it will look and behave exactly like the one you’re replacing. It’s even possible to save your Wi-Fi passwords, browsing history, and personal preferences like your Today screen and Control Center layout.

Should You Back Up to iTunes or iCloud?

As an iPhone owner, you have two options when backing up: local backups made using a computer running iTunes, and online backups straight to the web via iCloud.

iCloud backups happen automatically when your phone is plugged in to power, connected to Wi-Fi, and not currently in use. Since most of us charge our phones overnight, you can expect iCloud backups to happen while you sleep.

iCloud logo

Your initial iCloud backup will take a while, since your iPhone must upload everything to the server. It’s not unusual for this process to take several days, depending on your connection speed. Future backups only transfer new or modified data, so they take relatively little time.

iTunes backups must be done manually. You’ll need to have iTunes on your local Mac or Windows PC. Although you can backup wirelessly provided both the computer and iPhoneare on the same network, it’s faster and more reliable to use a Lightning cable instead.

iTunes for Mac

These backups work in much the same way as iCloud—the initial backup is huge and takes a while, but future backups won’t take as long to complete. The biggest problem with relying on iTunes is remembering to initiate the backup, and having an entire device’s worth of storage space to accommodate it.

Both options have their own merits. iCloud is a set-and-forget solution, offering peace of mind, but you’ll need to purchase some iCloud storage space to make the most of it. iTunes requires more thought and action, but it’s a more convenient backup to have in your possession. Restoring an iTunes backup is much quicker than restoring via iCloud.

How to Back Up Your iPhone Locally With iTunes

Before you make a backup of your iPhone or iPad using iTunes, it’s a good idea to check whether you have the latest latest version of iTunes (go to Help > Check for Updates), but it’s often not necessary.

Wireless Sync

Make sure iCloud is turned off. On your iPhone, go to Settings > [Your Name] > iCloud > iCloud Backup and toggle iCloud Backup to off. Then go to Settings > General > iTunes Wi-Fi Sync, which will prompt you to connect your iPhone to your PC. Sign in to iTunes using your Apple ID, and look for the small iPhone icon.

iTunes Backup

In the menu that appears on the left, select Summary and scroll down to Options. Select “Sync with this iPhone over Wi-Fi” and click Apply on the bottom right.

iTunes Backup

Disconnect your iPhone from the PC; if your PC and iPhone are on the same Wi-Fi network, your phone should appear in iTunes and allow for wireless backups.

With a Cable

Connect your iPhone or iPad to your computer and launch iTunes. Your phone will appear as a small icon up top.

iTunes Backup

Click that phone icon, and in the left-hand menu under Summary, click the items you want to back up. If it’s music, for example, click Music and check the box next to Sync Music. Choose whether you want to back up your entire library or select tracks and albums. Click Apply and do the same for movies, TV shows, and whatever else you want to sync.

iTunes Backup

How to Back Up Your iPhone Online With iCloud

With iCloud Backup, you back up your data to the cloud automatically with a Wi-Fi connection and back up:

  • Purchase history for music, movies, TV shows, apps, and books purchased from the iTunes Store, App Store, or iBook store
  • Photos and videos, settings, app data, home screen, iMessage, SMS Text, MMS messages, and ringtones

You can select the iCloud backup option from the settings for your iOS device in iTunes when connected, or from the iOS device itself. You can perform backups automatically or manually. While it doesn’t back up your purchased apps, music, movies, and books, it will download these from the App, iTunes, and iBook store when you restore from an iCloud Backup.

Apple provides 5GB of free cloud storage per Apple ID. You can easily eat up 5GB of storage quickly if you are backing up your photos and videos, but you can purchase additional iCloud storage for a fee.

iCloud syncs files automatically.  An automated sync, however, is not a true backup. For example, if you accidentally delete a photo from your iPhone, it’s gone once an automated sync is performed. With a true backup solution, you can recover the photo from the backup destination.

Directions to back up using iCloud:

  1. Connect your device to a Wi-Fi network
  2. Tap Settings > [your name], and tap iCloud. If you’re using iOS 10.2 or earlier, go to Settings, then scroll down and tap iCloud.
  3. Scroll down, tap iCloud Backup. If you’re using iOS 10.2 or earlier, tap Backup. Make sure that iCloud Backup is turned on
  4. Tap Back Up Now and stay connected to your Wi-Fi network until the process completes
  5. Make sure that the backup finished: Tap Settings > [your name] > iCloud > iCloud Storage > Manage Storage, then select your device — the backup should appear in the details with the time and backup size. If you’re using iOS 10.2 or earlier, your path is Settings > iCloud > Storage > Manage Storage.

Automatically back up with iCloud Backup:

  1. Make sure that iCloud Backup is turned on in Settings > [your name] > iCloud > iCloud Backup. If you’re using iOS 10.2 or earlier, go to Settings > iCloud > Backup
  2. Connect your device to a power source
  3. Connect your device to a Wi-Fi network
  4. Make sure that your device’s screen is locked
  5. Check that you have enough available space in iCloud for the backup

How to Restore an iTunes Backup

  1. Launch iTunes for Mac or Windows, and make sure it’s up to date.
  2. Connect your device via Lightning cable.
  3. Click on the device icon, then select your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.
  4. On the Summary tab, click on Restore Backup, then choose the backup you want to restore from the list.
  5. Wait for the process to complete before unplugging your device.

Note: If you’re storing your iTunes backups elsewhere (like an external drive or network location), make sure your computer can see this location before you start iTunes.

How to Restore an Online iCloud Backup

If your device is brand-new, skip to step four:

  1. Make sure there is no data you want to save on the device you will be restoring, and that it’s connected to a power source.
  2. On the device you want to restore, head to Settings > General > Reset and choose Erase All Content and Settings.
  3. Proceed with the reset by entering your Apple ID password when prompted.
  4. When your device restarts it will be in an as-new condition, so activate it as you would any other new device and continue setting it up.
  5. When prompted to choose how you want to set up the device, choose Restore from iCloud Backup.
  6. Begin the restoration process and wait.

When you see a lock screen, you should be able to start using your iPhone. Be aware that the restoration process will likely continue even after your device is usable. You might have to wait a day or so before all of your apps and media have downloaded.

What’s the Best Backup Solution for iPhone?

Any backup solution is better than no backup solution, so if you don’t fancy paying for iCloud storage then make sure you make regular iTunes backups instead. For ultimate peace of mind, you should back up to both iCloud and make periodic iTunes backups as you need them.

iCloud is a solution you don’t have to manage and hopefully you’ll never need to put that backup to use. It fulfills its purpose nicely by providing a safety blanket for your data. A dollar per month seems reasonable for this peace of mind, but there are still times when an iTunes backup is better.

For absolute peace of mind, set and forget your iCloud backup and make periodic iTunes backups. They’ll pay off in an instant if something every happens.

If you upgrade to the next iPhone, backing up your old one locally and restoring it to your new device will be much quicker than going the iCloud route. Conversely, a backup you made two months ago in iTunes is inferior to a daily check-in with iCloud.


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