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.
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.
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 iPhone are on the same network, it’s faster and more reliable to use a Lightning cable instead.
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
If you’re upgrading your iPhone to a new model, this is the quickest way to get up and running. To make a backup in iTunes:
- Download iTunes for Windows or make sure you’ve updated iTunes on your Mac via the App Store.
- Launch iTunes and connect your iPhone, iPad, or other iOS device.
- Click on the device icon when it appears (see the below screenshot) then select your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.
- On the Summary tab, click Back Up Now and wait for the process to complete.
If you enable the Encrypt iPhone backup option you will have to provide a password, without which you cannot restore your backup. On the plus side, encrypting your backup also includes all your saved passwords, HealthKit data, and HomeKit information.
If you’re relying on a laptop or other computer with limited storage space, it might not be possible to make a local backup. Luckily there’s a trick to move your backup location to an external drive or network location.
How to Back Up Your iPhone Online With iCloud
There’s a good chance you already have iCloud backup enabled on your device, but it’s easy to check:
- Unlock your iPhone and head to Settings > [Your Name] > iCloud.
- Scroll down the list until you see iCloud Backup and tap on it.
- Make sure iCloud Backup is On. Take note of any warnings about iCloud storage space and when your last backup completed.
- Tap Back Up Now to force your iPhone to initiate a backup, or just wait until later.
If you see a message that says your iPhone cannot be backed up because there isn’t enough iCloud storage available, you’ll need to upgrade your plan. Apple only provides 5GB for free, which doesn’t go very far. Head to Settings > [Your Name] > iCloud > Manage Storage and tap Change Storage Plan.
If you have a small iPhone and don’t keep a lot of photos, videos, or games, then the 50GB plan at $1/month will probably suffice. If you want to back up more than one device, share storage with family members, or you’re a bit of a digital hoarder, the 200GB option is probably a better choice at $3/month.
It’s possible to customize what your device backs up under Settings > [Your Name] > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups. Tap on a device and you’ll see all the items set to back up to iCloud. Toggle an app to Off to exclude it.
You can put your spare iCloud storage to good use by turning on iCloud Photo Library or storing and transferring files with iCloud Drive.
How to Restore an iTunes Backup
- Launch iTunes for Mac or Windows, and make sure it’s up to date.
- Connect your device via Lightning cable.
- Click on the device icon, then select your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.
- On the Summary tab, click on Restore Backup, then choose the backup you want to restore from the list.
- 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:
- 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.
- On the device you want to restore, head to Settings > General > Reset and choose Erase All Content and Settings.
- Proceed with the reset by entering your Apple ID password when prompted.
- 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.
- When prompted to choose how you want to set up the device, choose Restore from iCloud Backup.
- 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.