What is Automatic Setup for iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV, and how does it work?

Automatic Setup is Apple's proximity-based process for transferring data, settings, and content from an old device to a new one. You can use Automatic Setup on your iPhone, Apple Watch, or Apple TV. Here's what it is and how to go about it!

What is Automatic Setup, and how does it work?

Apple's Automatic Setup feature began as an easier way for users to set up the Apple TV with "tap-to-set-up," which let you use your iPhone's sensors to quickly connect to your Apple TV and automatically enter in data like an Apple ID and Wi-Fi network. Since then, the feature has evolved and expanded to cover not only the Apple TV, but new iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch models as well.

Automatic Setup is great because it lets users skip much of the form-filling present in older versions of setting up new devices — you shouldn't have to manually enter Wi-Fi network names and passwords, Apple IDs, or settings from previous devices. It's also proximity-based, keeping that data secure by requiring you to physically have both old and new devices in the same location.

Apple uses a slightly different method to automatically set up each device, depending on whether it's an iPhone or iPad, Apple Watch, or Apple TV.

How to use Automatic Setup to set up a new iPhone or iPad

You can use any current device running iOS 11 to set up a new iPhone or iPad by transferring the settings from your current device to your new device when in close physical proximity. Here's how!

How to transfer data from your old phone to your new iPhone

How to use Automatic Setup to set up a new Apple Watch

iPhone pairing

iPhone pairing (Image credit: iMore)

There are a few ways to pair your Apple Watch to your iPhone, depending on what makes the most sense for your needs. Automatic Setup lets you quickly sync your Apple Watch's internal signifiers to your iPhone and get everything set up.

How to set up a new Apple Watch

How to use Automatic Setup to set up a new Apple TV

Once you get your new Apple TV, you'll have to set it up from scratch. Apple offers two different ways of initializing your Apple TV: Set Up With Device, and Set Up Manually. If you don't have your device handy, Rene has a great how-to on manually setting up your Apple TV; otherwise, the easiest and best way is to use your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.

How to automatically set up your Apple TV with your iPhone

What do you think of Automatic Setup?

Let us know in the comments below.

Updated January 2018: Updated with more info about Automatic Setup.

Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way. 

Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.

  • Restoring from an iCloud backup is painfully slow. Is this new method as fast as restoring from an iTunes backup? Most importantly does it transfer everything. I've found iTunes restore to be the best and fastest option. Curious to know others' experiences.
  • Auto Setup sounds really good & look forward to using it when I get my X. ...Question: I assume the old iPhone's SIM card has been transferred before initiating Auto Setup? (Seems logical, but want to confirm.)
  • Yes. That's how I did it when setting up a new iPhone 8 for my daughter, transferring data from her iPhone 6, and it worked fine. I first shut down the iPhone 6, took out the SIM card, put the SIM card into the iPhone 8, powered up the iPhone 8 and then started auto setup. It was a very smooth experience. (Of course, I first had to upgrade the iPhone 6 to iOS 11.)
  • Correction: where I said I powered up the iPhone 8 I should have said that I powered up both iPhones.
  • I performed a test with an old phone that I first upgraded to iOS 11 and then reset to factory, that I could subsequently set up from my existing iPhone 7/iOS 11. Some notes that I did not realize at first, before I explain the test results: First, our apps are no longer stored in iTunes as of iTunes version 12.7, so now, apps have to be downloaded no matter which method you use to restore/setup a new iPhone (i.e., iTunes, iCloud, Automatic Setup). Second, Automatic Backup uses 'Restore from iCloud backup', so it is NOT the same as the encrypted iTunes backup. I verified this by confirming that health app data was NOT restored to the 'new' iPhone - health data is uniquely restored from an encrypted backup. So, Automatic setup is really a more automated new iPhone setup from iCloud. to be continued in next comment...
  • So for my test results - first, with about 200 apps, 3 days ago I set up from an iTunes encrypted backup (apps downloaded) and it took 23 minutes for everything to be done except downloading the apps, then it took another 37 minutes to download the apps (this is on a very fast network, about 500 Mbps d/l.). The setup time included setting up the phone like you really would if planning to use it - like setting up Touch ID and Hey Siri. Using Automatic Setup today, setup was complete except for downloading apps, in only 4 minutes! Apps download took 76 minutes, not sure why it was that much slower to load the apps - do they come from a different place or was it just doing the two tests on two different days? This could also be due to some other minor differences in the restore sequencing - for example, I am pretty sure (but not positive) that my photos (10,950 of them in iCloud Library) were not all downloaded when the apps completed installation using the iTunes backup; today, after the apps were all installed using Automatic Setup (with iCloud backup), photos were all there. As a final note about encrypted vs. iCloud backups, it seems like you still have to enter quite a few passwords when using a newly set up iPhone no matter which method you use. I am not sure what else you lose without going for the iTunes encrypted backup besides health data, I could not find information on that. Maybe someone knows.
  • I don't believe HomeKit comes through on an iCloud restore either. It needs iTunes backup like Health data. Thanks for sharing your experience. It sounds like this new restore method is easy and convenient, but I'll stick with iTunes to bring over more from my 7 when setting up my X (whenever I'm able to get it).
  • I restored my iCloud backup and all of my previous Health data is there. I believe iOS 11 and iCloud backup changed the need to restore from iTunes (could be wrong but my data is all there so that's my assumption).
  • That's odd, mine was not, and the Apple documentation indicates iCloud backup does not include health data:
  • Yeah it's really odd. All the way back to February 14th, which was when I did a clean install. The support date on that article is May 31, 2017 so I wonder if it's an iOS 11 thing. This is a brand new phone and I have no iTunes backups so it's definitely stored in iCloud.
  • Could it be that you haven’t selected health data to be included in iCloud backups? There’s a toggle for health data where you set up iCloud backup.
  • Thanks Sorppa, I checked and I do have Health Data toggled on so that is odd. How could it be backed up if not encrypted, as that is what we have been led to believe. Who knows :-)