If you've just unboxed your new iPhone and are considering whether to transfer everything over from your old iPhone, there are a few things to consider. While a clean install is not necessary, some of us just like to do so because it's like "cleaning out the closet" of our device. If you're upgrading your phone, a clean install won't speed things up — the hardware upgrade will do that for you.
If, however, you want to start from scratch because it makes your new iPhone feel... well... new, there are apps you'll have to redownload, settings you'll have to set up again, and accounts you'll need to sign back into before you can use them again. But if you have your important app data, passwords, photos, and music synced with iCloud, signing in with your Apple ID on your new iPhone will make it easy to retrieve your content. If knowing this, you're still interested in going forward with doing a clean install, we've got some advice.
What does "clean install" mean?
When we talk about clean installs, there are two kinds people think of:
- Reinstall and restore from backup: This is usually done on a single phone or tablet. If your iPhone or iPad is slow, you can make an iCloud (automatically encrypted) or encrypted iTunes backup, reinstall and restore iOS, then restore from the backup when you get to that part of the setup screen.
- New device, no restore: You back up the old device but set up the new iPhone or iPad as a new device. You can piecemeal installation of apps and content, but you'll have to sign in and redo all your settings.
What you'll keep and lose when setting up your iPhone as new
Lots of people like this latter "clean install" option for new devices because it allows them a fresh start on setting up their apps, settings, and the like. And while in my opinion, no one on iOS needs to do that sort of clean install for system health, there are still those that prefer it.
Thankfully, whether you're doing so because you have too many apps or you want to reconfigure your new iPhone or iPad, you won't lose too much information thanks to your iCloud account's syncing features. That is, assuming you've turned them on for your old iPhone before attempting to set up your new one.
Log in with your iCloud account when setting up as new, and here's what you retain:
- Photos (either the last 1000 or, if you have iCloud Photo Library enabled, your entire library)
- Health data (iOS 11 and later)
- iCloud email (other accounts you'll have to manually re-add in the Settings app)
- Records of your purchased apps and app data—no apps will download automatically, but you can go into App Store > Profile > Purchased to restore them on an app-by-app basis.
- Messages (iOS 11 and later)
- Some music (All Apple Music content for subscribers; otherwise, purchased music will be available for re-download from the Music app)
- Safari bookmarks and passwords (if iCloud Keychain is enabled)
- iCloud Drive documents
- News preferences
- Wallet history (but not Apple Pay cards)
You'll lose the following, however:
- Photos not backed up to iCloud Photo Library or My Photo Stream
- Any app data not stored in iCloud
- Music synced from iTunes
- On iOS 10 or earlier, all Health data (only Stored in iCloud backups and encrypted iTunes backups, and you can't restore selectively)
A special note on health data
From iOS 11 on, you have the option to sync your Health data to iCloud. If you enable this feature and allow it to sync, you'll be able to do a "clean" install of future versions of iOS without losing your workouts, activity, and other information — AKA not losing the bulk of your Apple Watch's synced data. (If you start from scratch, you'll still lose other Apple Watch features, including custom watch faces, app organization, and the like.)
When you first sign in to iCloud after doing a clean install, you may not see all of your saved health data at first. Sometimes, it takes a while for all of the data to show up. It's a lot of syncing to carry over. Give it a few days to catch up.
If possible, I recommend keeping your old iPhone long enough to ensure that your health data has properly synced to your new iPhone. Once confirmed, you can confidently wipe your old iPhone.
Are you planning on restoring or doing a clean install? Let us know in the comments which, and why.
Updated April 2020: Updated for iPhone SE.
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