iCloud backups changed the iOS ecosystem. Instead of having to manually back up your iOS device to iTunes, you can simply sync it to Apple's iCloud service and it will back up automatically. However, many iOS users have never connected their device to their Mac or Windows machine to perform a backup, yet alone a sync. In this article, we'll discuss the two ways that you can restore iOS (iTunes and iCloud) to a new or existing device. Each has its pros and cons, so you'll have to decide which one is better for you.
Backing up and restoring with iCloud
iCloud provides an easy-to-use backup solution that is more or less "set it and forget it." Once you've enabled iCloud Backups, it'll do a nightly backup of your device, assuming that you have a Wi-Fi connection. All of your photos, videos, stored application data, and iOS settings are whisked to the cloud every day to ensure that if an emergency strikes, all of your information is easily accessible.
On the down side, there quite a few items that iCloud doesn't back up, including any media content on your device that wasn't purchased through the iTunes Store and photos that you've synced over from your computer.
iCloud also has space restrictions. Apple provides 5 GB of free storage (which is usually good enough to back up one or even two devices if you don't store many photos and videos), but the pricing can get a little costly as you need more storage. Only your application data and stored photos and videos will actually take up storage on iCloud, though. Apple doesn't count iTunes content against this limit.
To enable iCloud Backup, follow these steps:
- Open the Settings app
- Go to iCloud
- Go to Storage & Backup
- Enable the option for iCloud Backup (Figure A)
In this same section, you can manually create a backup at any time by pressing the Back Up Now button. Under that button, you can also see the date of the last iCloud Backup.
Enable the option for iCloud Backup.
You can restore from your iCloud Backup only after you have reset all of
the settings and are in the iOS setup view. When you get the options to either Set Up as New iPhone, Restore from iCloud Backup, or Restore from
iTunes Backup, tap Restore from iCloud
Backup (Figure B). Here you'll be able to select the backup to
restore and begin the restore process. Note: The backup will load from
Apple's servers, so you'll need to be connected online throughout the
entire restore process.
Restore from iCloud Backup.
Backing up and restoring your iOS device with iTunes
iTunes is an older way to back up your iOS device. You can do this by plugging in your device (using either a 30-pin or Lightning connector) or by connecting compatible devices to the same Wi-Fi network as your Mac or Windows machine that's running iTunes.
It's important to note that where iCloud fails, iTunes takes over with the backup process. iTunes backs up everything: applications, application data, and all content stored on your device (including iTunes content). This is good for a few reasons, but mainly because it backs up all of your purchased content. This means that if an app or other iTunes purchase becomes unavailable in the iTunes Store, you'll still have a copy on your computer that can be loaded back to your device.
You can back up your iOS device on iTunes by performing the following steps:
- Open iTunes and select your iOS device
- Click File | Devices | Back Up
- The first time you begin a backup, you'll be prompted to select what kind of content -- like photos, music, or apps (Figure C) -- that you want to back up
Backing up apps to iTunes.
If you visit the Summary tab in the device window, you can
enable wireless syncing (and wireless backups) to iTunes (Figure
D). As long as your iOS device is connected to the same wireless network
as your opened iTunes installation, it'll start syncing and back up
your device at regular intervals.
Enable iTunes wireless syncing.
Here's how you can restore iTunes backups to your iOS device:
- Open the latest version of iTunes, and connect your iOS device to your computer
- Choose File | Devices | Restore from Backup (Figure E)
- Choose the backup you want from the drop-down list, and click Restore
If you're using iTunes 10.7 or earlier, right-click on your device in the sidebar and choose Restore from Backup.Figure E
Restoring a backup from iTunes.
While iTunes backups are an older form of technology and not as convenient as iCloud, they do provide immediate access to your data should something happen to your device (or iCloud account). iTunes restores are also faster than iCloud restores, because all of your data is stored locally on your computer running iTunes.
Which method should you choose?
We've talked about the two ways to backup and restore your iOS devices, but which should you use on a regular basis? Is one better than the other?
iCloud and iTunes backups differ in two main ways: 1) iCloud backups won't restore items on your iOS device that have been moved to your device and not purchased through iTunes (music, videos, etc.); and 2) If your iCloud backups become corrupt or your account is compromised, you won't be able to restore your device's contents.
Weekly iTunes backups, coupled with daily iCloud backups, can provide the best of both worlds. iTunes is a complete snapshot of your device at the time of backup, while iCloud captures snapshots of your device daily. This means that should iCloud or iTunes fail to restore properly, you can fall back to one or the other. iCloud can also take a while to restore (due to limitations of both your Internet connection and the speed of the iCloud servers) -- in comparison, iTunes can restore all of the content back to your iOS device very quickly.
Many users run into issues by restoring backups when upgrading iOS hardware. iTunes and iCloud backups are very thorough (copying key user preferences and files), and they can copy corrupt settings between older and newer generations of devices when restoring, leading to degraded battery life, crashes, and other system-wide oddities. As such, it's generally a good idea to setup your devices as new each time you get new iOS hardware; only restore backups created on devices to the same generation of device to prevent these issues.
In the battle of iCloud vs. iTunes, do you prefer one method of backup over another, or have you had issues restoring from older generations of hardware to newer generations? Please share your thoughts and experience in the discussion thread below.
Cory Bohon is an indie developer, creating both iOS and OS X applications at Cocoa App (his own company), MartianCraft, and for various other clients. As a part of full disclosure, he does not write about any software that he has created or has helped to create through these outlets.
Cory Bohon is an indie developer specializing in iOS and OS X development. He runs a software company called Cocoa App and is also a developer at MartianCraft. He was introduced to technology at an early age and has been writing about his favorite technology part-time since 2007. He runs a development blog named ObjDev when he isn’t writing about consumer tech.