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Backing Up iPhones & iPads

iPhones & iPads need to be backed up regularly for obvious reasons — in case of theft, failure or transferring to a new device.

See Is My iPhone/iPad Backed Up?.

Apple provides two methods to back up: via iCloud over wireless and via iTunes on your computer. Both methods have pros and cons.

iCloud Backup

iCloud Backup is enabled from the device. Whenever the device is attached to a wifi network, and is being charged, it will attempt a backup.

Pros

  • Set-and-forget. Once configured the backup will run whenever plugged in and attached to wifi.

  • Does not require a long time. Backups are incremental so can complete within a few minutes if the device has an opportunity to attempt a backup regularly.

  • Easy to restore. If you get a new device, simply sign in to your iCloud account and it will download the backup automatically.

Cons

  • Must have wifi. If you don't have wifi at home or work (which is not uncommon), the backup will never run. And restoring an iCloud backup also requires wifi.

  • First backup takes a long time. The first backup must include all the data on the device, which make take many hours over broadband with low upload speeds.

  • Only one backup exists. There's only one backup, the version in iCloud.

  • Doesn’t store passwords and other private data. When you restore you will need to re-enter account passwords, and some apps may have missing information.

  • Doesn't backup media or photos. Only media purchased via iTunes Store will be “backed up” (by virtue of being in your iCloud account). Photos are only backed up via Photo Stream, which needs to be turned on.

  • Restoring may be slow. Depending on your broadband speed.

  • Free iCloud storage is only 5Gb. If the backup exceeds 5Gb you'll need to purchase more storage.

iTunes Backup

Pros

  • Backup can be any size. Limited only by the capacity of your computer's hard disk drive.

  • Can backup private data, By assigning a password to the backup, iTunes will include all data on the device, including account passwords. When restoring the backup everything will be restored.

  • Includes photos. Even if Photo Stream is not enabled, the photos on the device are included in the backup.

  • Does not require any internet connectivity. The backup is done over the device cable.

  • Can restore older versions. Windows 7 stores multiple copies of each file, so your system may automatically have a number of prior copies of the device backups. Additionally if you manually archive the backup folders you can restore one of those instead of the latest version.

Cons

  • Requires physical connection. Not everyone regularly attaches their device to their PC and thus some devices are either never backed up or backed up so infrequently that the backup is useless. An iTunes backup requires the user to remember to attach the device regularly.

  • Not offsite. The backup is on the computer, so if anything happens to the computer, it might also happen to the device (eg theft, fire etc). So iTunes backups also require an offsite backup strategy to ensure the backups are safe.

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