Whether you’ve upgraded to the newest model or you’re the proud new owner of a family hand-me-down, the first thing on everyone’s mind is how to get everything from their old iPhone onto their new one. Here’s what you need to do.
iCloud Backup? Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That
iCloud has been around since 2011, and it’s extremely handy for ensuring that content on your iOS devices is continuously backed up to the cloud. It’s fantastic for things like guaranteeing your vacation photos make it home even if your iPhone doesn’t, keeping your contacts synced, and even handy tasks like locating your iPhone via GPS.
But when it comes time to transfer everything over to a new phone, iCloud is agonizing. Even if your old iPhone only had 16GB of storage, if its backed full of photos, videos, personal data, and so on, that’s still a big download on even a good broadband connection. It’s great in an emergency (like when your phone gets stolen), but for a routine backup, we recommend using iTunes instead–it’ll take a fraction of the time.
What You Need
To follow along with today’s tutorial, you need just a few things–but read the list closely, as there’s a big caveat for people migrating to a new–but-previously-used phone.
First and foremost, you need access to a computer where you can run iTunes–available for Windows and macOS. You probably have one already, but if not, borrow one from a friend. Make sure it has enough free disk space for your backup–if you have a 64GB phone full of stuff, you’ll need 64GB of free space on the PC, too. (Don’t worry, you can delete that backup after you’ve restored it to your new phone.)
Second, you’ll need the two phones–your old phone and your new phone–and an appropriate syncing cable for them.
NOTE: If you got the new phone secondhand, you need to ensure that the previous owner is logged out of iCloud. Apple uses iCloud logins as a form of theft protection, and until the previous owner logs out, the phone is considered “iCloud locked”. If the device is iCloud locked, you won’t be able to transfer your data over to it.
Step One: Back Up Your Existing iOS Device
Once you have the two devices in hand and iTunes installed on your PC, it’s time to perform a local backup. You can perform this step even if you normally use iCloud backup so don’t worry about messing up your iCloud setup.
Launch iTunes and plug in your old iPhone with the syncing cable. It’s best to plug it directly into the computer’s USB port. (Don’t plug it into the fast charge port on your USB hub like us and wonder what’s taking so long, is all we’re saying).
If you have never used your phone with this PC before, you’ll see the following message pop up:
This message is unnecessarily confusing even by iTunes standards, and might cause you to panic a bit. It really makes it sound like your only options for bringing the phone into iTunes is to wipe it (“Set up as a new iPhone”) or overwrite it (“Restore from this backup”) if there are backups on the PC already.
What the first option should say is “Create a new profile in iTunes for this phone”, because that’s what it means. Don’t panic: this option won’t wipe your phone. Go ahead and do so now if you see the above screen in front of you.
Look for the device icon to appear in the navigation bar and click on it, as seen below.
In the detailed device view, look for the “Backups” section. In that section ensure that “Encrypt iPhone Backup” is checked on the left hand side before clicking “Back Up Now”. In order for all your data to be backed up properly (like your saved passwords and Health/HomeKit data), you must encrypt your backup and give it a password.
Once you’ve click “Back Up Now”, sit back and wait a few minutes as iTunes churns through your device and backs up all the data to the local disk.
When the process is complete, eject your old phone from the computer and set it aside.
Step Two: Restore the Old Backup to Your New Device
This next step is where the magic happens. Unbeknownst to many people, you can take the backup from an old phone (say, your old iPhone 5s) and just slap it right on top of your new phone (say, an iPhone 7). There’s no special steps required.
Simply grab your new device and plug it into the same PC with the sync cable. Wait for it to mount in iTunes. The new phone will register as a new iTunes device and you’ll see that same panic-inducing screen we highlighted earlier in the tutorial–only this time you’ve got a clear and calm path of action.
In the “Welcome to Your New iPhone” screen, select the option “Restore from this backup” and then confirm that the selected backup is the backup you just made of your old phone. Click “Continue” once you’ve confirmed the backup is the correct one.
Sit back and relax as all your old data is copied over to your new phone. After the process is complete, you’ll see a message pop up indicating that your device will restart:
After the restart iTunes will run a few checks (like, for example, it may prompt you to update iOS if the new device can run a higher version of iOS than the old device) and then you’re back in business. All your photos, contact, apps, health data, and such from your old phone will now be on your new phone.
There’s one final step you may wish to undertake if you borrowed a computer to perform this little storage swap maneuver. To free up some space on the PC, you can copy or delete the very large iPhone backup you just made. Check out this guide for more info on how to do that.
That’s all there is to it–instead of killing hours of your life waiting on an iCloud sync, you can sit down at a PC and rip through the backup and restoration process in a fraction of the time.
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