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What You Need to Know About iPhone and iPad Backups

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Your iPhone or iPad automatically backs up to your iCloud account by default, but you can also create more comprehensive, local backups from iTunes. Apple only offers 5 GB of iCloud space for free, so you may need to manage your iCloud backups.

Many apps will automatically “back up” your data to the appropriate service, too. For example, when you use Gmail, your emails are stored on Google’s servers with your Google account — you don’t have to back anything up.

iCloud Backups

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Assuming you set up iCloud when you set up your device, it will automatically be backing up to your iCloud storage online. This backup process occurs when your device is plugged in, locked, and connected to Wi-Fi. When you set up a device, you’ll be able to restore the backup from your iCloud account. Note that iCloud doesn’t back up all your photos and videos, so you’ll need to back those up manually.

To check whether iCloud is set up, open the Settings app and tap iCloud. You’ll see the account your device is backing up to. If you haven’t set up iCloud yet, you can do so from this screen.

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Tap the Storage and Backup option at the bottom of the iCloud pane to see more information about the backup process. On this screen, you can see how much iCloud storage space you have — that’s 5 GB of free space by default. The iCloud Backup toggle allows you to choose whether or not your device backs up to iCloud.

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To view the space used for backups, tap Manage Storage. If you have multiple devices, you’ll see a list of your devices and how much iCloud space their backups are using. You normally shouldn’t have to worry too much about iCloud backups, but you may want to prune your storage if you’re running out of space.

Tap a device to view more detailed information about the latest backup. You can see exactly which apps are using the most space. To free up space, you can disable backups for one of the apps. When iCloud next backs up, it won’t back up any apps you disable here, saving you space. You can also delete the most recent backup by tapping Delete Backup.

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iTunes Backups

You can create a backup in iTunes by connecting your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch to your computer with its included USB cable. Unlock your device, open iTunes, and select the device. You’ll see a Backup section, where you can control how your device backs up and manually back it up.

By default, your device automatically backs up to iCloud — assuming you set up iCloud, of course. You can have your device automatically back up to your computer instead and choose whether to encrypt these local backups with a password. If you’d like to create a one-time backup on your computer, click the Back Up Now button.

Note that iTunes backups are different than iCloud backups. When you back up via iTunes, you’ll get a complete copy of all the data on your device so you can restore your device to the same exact state later. With iCloud, only “the most important data” on your device will be backed up to your iCloud account. For example, iCloud backups don’t include a complete copy of the music and videos on your device — but iTunes backups will. This allows you to save limited iCloud space and avoid having to upload and download huge amounts of data.

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For most people, iCloud backups will be good enough. You don’t need iTunes. But, if you really want a complete backup, you can create one from within iTunes. To restore this back up later, just connect your device to your computer and use the Restore Backup button.

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Apps That Sync With Online Services

Many apps are connected to an online service, so separate backups aren’t really necessary. For example, when you create notes in Evernote, they’re saved to your Evernote account online so you can access them from other devices. You don’t need an iCloud or iTunes backup of your Evernote notes — if you get a new device, you can just log into the Evernote app with the same account and all your notes will be ready for you. iCloud may still back up some of the data these apps use — this can help ensure settings specific to that local app are preserved — but your important data will likely be synchronized with an online account.


If you’re an average iPhone or iPad user, you shouldn’t worry too much about backups. Just sign in with an iCloud account and let your device take care of it for you. You shouldn’t have to manually create backups with iTunes anymore. If you’re running out of space and don’t want to pay Apple for more iCloud storage, you may want to manage your backups.

Image Credit: Ryan Tir on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 03/1/14

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