The importance of multiple backups for iPhone, iPod, and iPad

iOS 6 was the first full iOS update offered over-the-air (OTA) using Apple's bit-differential, update-in-place iCloud system. That should make for faster, more convenient updates for current devices, and easier migrations to new devices. But the thing is, when pushing around billions of bits, things can and will go wrong. Storage has errors, power and connectivity fails at the worst times possible, and files get corrupted.

We've gotten reports from a few readers who are having trouble with backups at the moment, so it's worth going over the key strategy again -- local, online, and redundant.

The more important your data -- photos of your children, documents for work, art and science you've willed into being -- the better you need to back it up. And that means at least one or two local copies as well as copies in the cloud.

Sure, convenience is king, and that's why iCloud is so important -- it does everything for you with absolutely no time or effort on your part. But you get out what you put in, so once in a while plug into iTunes and hit the backup button as well. Heck, if your iPhone or iPad is your life, plug into something like PhoneView and do a second backup as well. Keep the iTunes copy in the default folder, put the PhoneView archive in Dropbox. The more important your data, the better you need to take care of it. Apple absolutely has to make sure the technology works, but making the best use possible of that technology it is our responsibility.

How to backup your iPhone, iPod, or iPad with iCloud

If you're logged into iCloud and have given it permission, iCloud will automatically back up your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad whenever you plug it into a power source and it is connected to a Wi-Fi network. iCloud backup requires power so it doesn't run the battery down while backing up, and it requires Wi-Fi because of the potentially large amount of data it will transfer.

If you're not sure if you've properly set up iCloud or not, here's how to check:

How to manually trigger an iCloud backup

If you need to replace or restore your phone, or you know you’ll be traveling for a while and want to make sure the backup is done before you go, you can initiate a manual backup.

  1. Launch the Settings app
  2. Tap on iCloud
  3. Tap on Storage & Backup near the bottom
  4. Tap on Back Up Now at the bottom.

Depending on the speed of your Wi-Fi connection and how much you have to backup, it could take a while to complete. When it's done iCloud backup will be up to date.

How to backup your iPhone, iPod, or iPad with iTunes

  1. Plug your current iPhone into your computer
  2. Launch iTunes if it doesn't launch automatically
  3. If you're using iCloud, de-select any sync settings or options iTunes might offer you so you don't over-write what's on your device.
  4. Right click your device name in the navigation bar and choose Back Up as well.

How to manually backup data using PhoneView

  1. If you have a passcode on your device, enter it and unlock your iPhone so you're at the Home screen before plugging it in.
  2. Plug your device into your Mac and open the PhoneView app.
  3. Click Archive

You can also backup specific files and apps at a granular level.

The bottom line

Your data is valuable. You data might well be invaluable. At the very least, let iCloud do its thing every night and once and a while plug into iTunes and do a manual backup just in case. At most, come up with a robust backup strategy that you know you'll be able to stick to. That way, if something bad happens, you won't be panicking. You'll know just how to recover as much as possible.

Ally Kazmucha contributed large sections of this article

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter, App.net, Google+.

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There are 9 comments. Add yours.

Gent c says:

How to backup only notes and contacts and recovery only them?

mathwizz says:

If you're already using Wi-Fi to sync your device automatically, you shouldn't need to get out a cable to "plug your device into your Mac"... Wi-Fi will do, albeit slower.

JordanHomes says:

I love iCloud backup and certainly recommend it to all my friends. The one gotcha I experienced is that if you happen to be traveling, or have a vacation cabin, etc... and use one of those Verizon or AT&T hotspot devices, the iPhone / iPad thinks it is real WiFi. So... yup, you guessed it. If you have several iDevices connected with iCloud backup set, you clobber your hotspot data allocation at night while they all do a backup, and it never crosses your mind how you could possibly be churning through all that data! Ok, who was up in the middle of the night streaming video?

SteveW928 says:

It's a nice backup (iCloud), but doesn't allow for much control. Also, people often confuse backup and archival.

Backup is generally a more automated thing to catch snapshots in time (the main iCloud deficiency in this regard is lack of control over the restore and what to restore, at least as far as I can see).

Archival is when you take a controlled snapshot or take data from independent sources and apps to store away until you decide to get rid of it.

IMO, both are critical. Never depend on backup alone, as there are almost always gotcha's involved. The automation might break or mess up; the backup destination could be destroyed or lost/stolen; etc. (I worked IS/IT as a consultant and in a Fortune 100 for years... I could tell you tons of horror stories where very good backups were in place, but where archival and proper testing wasn't implemented.)

SteveW928 says:

Great article! I hadn't realized I could JUST backup with iTunes (right-click), so I had been only using iCloud, as I didn't want any sort of sync going on. (Note: I unchecked any kind of sync on ALL the tabs, as well as the main sync on the summary page. It might be good to clarify this in the article).

The other problem, is how to restore just the data for one app, rather than the whole device. I'm assuming that is what PhoneView helps with, so I might want to look into that at some point. The one big problem with iCloud at this point is having zero control. Heck, who even knows what it might be doing.... if the data somehow got mucked up or deleted in one place, iCloud might be efficiently and effectively deleting and mucking up that data everywhere!

The other thing I've been doing is keeping data from apps which allow it, separately archived. This is actually a feature I look for when purchasing an app. Does it allow me to save the data file up to Dropbox or transfer it via WiFi to my computer? Or, for core apps like Calendar and Contacts, I actually export them on my desktop once a month (with a reminder set in ToDo). I've had friends tell me about seeing a duplicate, deleting it, and losing that contact (which iCloud efficiently gets rid of everywhere). That kind of data is too important not to have redundancy which can so easily be destroyed (in an automated fashion, at that).

dloveprod says:

I back up to iCloud at night but i also back up to iTunes every couple of weeks, just in case.

ChrisMcKinney says:

Quality post. These kind of reminders are really helpful to me. Just did my 3 backups. Thank you.

RodneyJ725 says:

I like the iCloud backup, but my iPhone alone takes up all of the free 5GB, and then fails saying not enough storage. This has been happening since I started using Spotify, and syncing music to my iphone... Any way to selectively back up the data of some apps, and not others? I think I saw a previous post on that... I've gotta check...

datnewf says:

you sure can and its really easy too -
Settings
- iCloud
- Storage & backup
- Manage Storage
- Tap the backup for your device
- turn off anything you don't want backing up - Also will list the size of the backup