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How to back up your iPhone and iPad before an upgrade

iOS Backups Hero

With the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus and iOS 9 all making their way into the world, now would be a good time to back up your devices before upgrading to the shiny new stuff. Merlin Mann put it best:

“If you don’t have time to do backups, you so don’t have time to upgrade.”

There are many ways to back up an iOS device, but to keep things simple, we will cover just the basics — namely, backing up through iCloud and iTunes.

Backing up with iCloud

An item of note before I explain the backup process: Apple has changed their iCloud storage tiers over time. You can see the current plans here, or by going to Settings → iCloud → Storage → Change Storage Plan.

For the US, the current plans and pricing are:

  • 5 GB — Free (same as ever)
  • 50 GB — $1/month
  • 200 GB — $3/month
  • 1 TB — $10/month

While I do wish 50 GB was the free plan, Apple has matched Dropbox on the 1 TB option and lowered the pricing elsewhere. 50 GB will cover the vast majority of people’s backup needs.

With that said, here’s how to back your data up to iCloud. First, let’s determine what you want to include in (or exclude from) the backup. To do that, navigate to Settings → iCloud → Storage → Manage Storage → Choose your device under ‘Backups’.

Under Backup Options you will see a list of toggles for the photo library and every app on your device, sorted by file size:

iCloud Backup Settings

Everything will be toggled on by default, so turn off any items you’d rather not back up. If you’ve upgraded to one of the new storage tiers listed above and space is no concern, then we recommend leaving everything on.

Once you’ve determined what to back up, make sure the device is on a Wi-Fi network and, for best results, connected to a power source (this process can take a while). Now, navigate back to Settings → iCloud → Backup and ensure iCloud Backup is toggled on. If it is, you’ll see a Back Up Now option. Just tap that button and wait for the process to complete.

Also note that iCloud backups can happen automatically at night. Assuming your iOS device is plugged in and charging and is also connected to a Wi-Fi network, it will automatically back up to iCloud. If you’ve been running the iOS 9 betas on your iPhone 6, be sure that it has a current backup before setting up your iPhone 6s. Some versions of the public beta had issues making iCloud backups.

Backing up with iTunes

An iTunes backup is a great option if: (a) you need more space than the free/paid tier of iCloud storage you have allows; or (b) you want an extra layer of backup in addition to your iCloud backup.

The process is simple:

  • Plug your device into your Mac or PC.
  • Open iTunes and select the iPhone icon in the upper-left corner.
  • Click the Summary tab and scroll down to the Backups section.
  • Click the Back Up Now button and wait for the backup to complete.
  • To verify that the backup worked, open iTunes Preferences and select the Devices tab. If the backup was successful, you’ll see it listed there.

It’s not as slow as iCloud, but can still take a while if you’re not in the habit of regularly backing up your device. If you don’t keep local copies of your applications stored in iTunes, you’ll want to transfer purchases before trying to restore to a new phone. You can do from File → Devices → Transfer Purchases. Once your new phone is restored and all your apps have been reloaded, you can delete the apps off your Mac to save space.

Regarding the Security of Your Backups

If you store a lot of sensitive information on your device, you’ll be happy to know that Apple’s two-factor authentication feature was recently extended to cover iCloud backups. If you still haven’t activated two-factor authentication yet, you can do so from your Apple ID control panel. We highly recommend it.

iTunes backups can also be protected with a passcode if you’re worried about that data falling into the wrong hands, but be wary—the backup contains your keychain information, meaning all the passwords you’ve saved for email accounts, Wi-Fi networks, websites, and certain apps.

Encrypt iTunes backup

On the plus side, encrypting such a backup allows you to transfer your keychain to a new device without having to re-enter all those passwords, a luxury that unencrypted backups do not enjoy.

Restoring Your Data

Though we would rather avoid having to wipe and restore a device altogether, a good backup eases the pain a bit.

  • Restoring from iCloud: During the iOS Setup Assistant process that comes up with every new (or recently-wiped) device, you will eventually see options to either Set Up as New iPhone or Restore From [iCloud/iTunes] Backup. Choose whichever backup you made most recently.

    (Note: If you accidentally set up the device as new when you wanted to use a backup, you’ll have to wipe it and start over again. You can do this from Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings. This also applies if you ever get a replacement phone with an older version of iOS than your backup is.)

  • Restoring from iTunes: Open iTunes and navigate to File > Devices > Restore from Back Up. Again, choose the most recent backup you’ve made. On older versions of iTunes (10.7 and earlier), you can right-click your device from the sidebar list and choose Restore from Backup.

We have a whole section of our site dedicated to doing easy backups of your computer. For more information on backups, check out our main Backups Page.