How to Backup Your iPhone or iPad


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It’s not enough to leave your iPhone backed up to iCloud, not when you need to be sure not to lose anything important. Here are your options for backing up iOS devices.

Steve Jobs once made a point of telling an audience that he hadn’t backed down in all the years he’d been at NeXT. However, that wasn’t because the backup isn’t important. This was because it was so important that every NeXT employee’s data was automatically backed up for them.

Perhaps Jobs brought this philosophy to Apple, as the company worked to make backups easier gradually — and without thinking. You see it every time you switch iPhones and all your apps and their data appear on the new one.

But as convenient as that is, it also makes you mindlessly assume that your data is safe. It doesn’t, unless you take positive action – and regularly.

How to backup your iPhone

Backup means saving a copy of everything from one device and storing it somewhere else in safe storage. Unfortunately, there are problems at both ends.

On the iPhone, you might not realize how much information it contains. And at the other end with secure storage, when you need your data back, you need to be able to get it back quickly.

Previously, there were two very clear choices for backing up an iPhone. Things are a little less clear now, partly because there are three options.

You can back up automatically and wirelessly to iCloud, you plug your iPhone into a Mac. Or you can sync your iPhone with your Mac.

Previously, iCloud backed up the basics, everything you needed to start over after data recovery. And backing up on a Mac used to require an exact copy of everything on the iPhone.

Synchronization has always been a third option, but it has become more relevant, more useful, because the others have improved enormously – and the lines between them have blurred so much.

How to Backup Your iPhone to iCloud

Backing up to iCloud is so simple, it practically takes willpower to stop it from happening. But make sure you’re still backing up to iCloud — and while you’re at it, back up to iCloud right now. [Upgrade to iCloud+ for more storage]

  1. On your iPhone, go to Settings
  2. Tap your name, then iCloud
  3. Then choose iCloud Backup
  4. Be sure that iCloud Backup is on
  5. Optionally enable Cellular Backup
  6. Since you are here, press Back up now

As soon as you press Back up now, the backup starts. You have the possibility to Cancel Backupbut you can also continue to use any other application instead of waiting.

You get a notice that says “Estimated Time Remaining”, which seems to stick around for a while. Next, the time it takes to back up your iPhone depends on how much data you have.

Backups are made periodically anyway, which on the one hand means there’s probably not much new or different to download at the moment. This also means that your iPhone regularly uses your internet connection to perform these backups.

And that’s why you might want to consider whether or not to use Cellular backup. Any backup might not take long, but it all adds up — and iCloud backs up a lot of different things.

An iCloud backup contains at least:

  • Photos and videos
  • Application data
  • posts
  • Device settings and preferences
  • Apple Watch Backups
  • Organization of the home screen and applications

It also contains purchase history for all Apple services. So not the movies or books you bought, but a list of the details.

An iCloud backup also stores your Visual Voicemail password, if you have one. Apple says later recovery “requires the SIM card used during the backup.”

Apple also notes that if you use an Apple Watch through Family Setup and don’t have an iPhone, it backs up directly to iCloud.

Other data that is normally in iCloud anyway – such as Contacts, Calendar, etc. – are not included in the backup.

How to Backup Your iPhone to Your Mac

  1. Connect your iPhone to your Mac
  2. If prompted on your iPhone, choose Trust this computerand enter your password
  3. Open a Finder window
  4. If necessary, click next to Pitches to open a list of readers
  5. Click on the name of your iPhone
  6. If prompted, click Trust
  7. Make sure the General the tab is highlighted
  8. To choose Backup All Your iPhone Data to This Mac
  9. Click to check or uncheck Encrypt local backupAs you wish
  10. Then click on Back up now
  11. When you’re done, click the eject symbol next to your iPhone’s name in Pitches
  12. After a while, unplug your iPhone.

If you’re still running something before macOS 10.15, the process is the same but instead of the Finder, you use the iTunes app.

Connect an iPhone to a Mac and this screen lets you both backup and sync

Connect an iPhone to a Mac and this screen lets you both backup and sync

What is not backed up on Mac or iCloud

Backing up to iCloud is handy, and backing up to a Mac at least lets you store your data locally. But neither backs up everything on your iPhone.

Much of this makes sense. Neither iCloud nor Mac will back up movies you’ve purchased from the iTunes Store, because at worst you can always re-download them later.

In practice, titles become unavailable even after you purchase them, but in theory they are still available and therefore not worth saving.

Similarly, no system backs up text messages. Nor Apple Mail data. And for security reasons, there’s no backup of your Apple Pay details, or Face ID and Touch ID settings.

But there are also gray areas, and those where you need to know what isn’t backed up, because you’d never guess.

For example, Apple’s support pages say iCloud backups won’t include “data stored in other cloud services, such as Gmail and Exchange.” While the same page, in its section on Mac backup, does not mention other cloud services at all.

Apple clarifies that “PDFs downloaded directly from Apple Books” will not be backed up to the Mac – but says nothing about an iCloud backup.

It’s fair to assume that if Apple doesn’t explicitly say something is backed up by iCloud or Mac, it isn’t backed up either. Fortunately, there is a third option.

Apple Music replaces iCloud music backup

Apple Music replaces iCloud music backup

When to sync your iPhone and when not to

A sync takes a complete copy of your iPhone’s data and stores it on your Mac — except it’s still not quite complete. It’s the closest you can get, as it includes iCloud data like contacts and calendars, plus it copies movies, books, and more.

That’s of course a lot of data. And everything has to go somewhere, so you potentially need a lot of local storage – plus the time it takes to sync.

So maybe you could have iCloud back up automatically all the time, then do a weekly or monthly backup on your Mac. And semi-annually or annually, perform a synchronization.

  1. Connect your iPhone to your Mac
  2. If prompted on your iPhone, choose Trust this computerand enter your password
  3. Open a Finder window
  4. If necessary, click next to Pitches to open a list of readers
  5. Click on the name of your iPhone
  6. If prompted, click Trust
  7. Make sure the General the tab is highlighted
  8. Click on the To sychronize bottom right button
  9. After a long time, unplug your iPhone.

It is better to have clicked General before starting, but it is not a requirement. You can instead click on one of the tabs next to it, like The music, Movies etc

The advantage is that before clicking To sychronize, you can see which categories will or will not be backed up. For example, clicking on Music will show you that you cannot sync music – if you are also an Apple Music subscriber (new customers get one month free).

You have to do it

There are so many options and choices that all of this can help you. But the main reason for confusion over what gets backed up and what doesn’t is that Apple has steadily made iCloud backups more useful, more comprehensive.

And it’s better to remember all of this on World Backup Day – than to learn about backups only after you’ve lost everything.

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