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Five ways to get your iPhone, iPad, and Mac backups going for 2017!

As the old saying goes, one copy is no copy and two copies is as good as one. What that means is, unless you have good local backups—plural—and online redundancies, you're only one failure, accident, theft, or other incident away from catastrophe—from the loss of everything that's digitally vital to you. That's why you need to have a plan in place. Luckily, both iOS and macOS make it easy to get started and have plenty of options available so you can get serious as well!

1. Local backup

Your first line of defense for any disk failure or damage is a local backup. On macOS, Apple provides the built-in Time Machine apps that will automatically create incremental backups—as long as you have an external drive or Time Capsule hooked up. The great thing about Time Machine being incremental is that, if you only need to recover a few files or folders, or even older versions of them, you can do that without a full restore. Since you may want to backup multiple versions and multiple machines, you'll need a hard drive at least as big as the one(s) you're backing up, although in this case, the more the better.

If you want to back your iPhone or iPad locally as well, you'll need to connect them to iTunes, make a backup—make it encrypted, so it stores your passwords securely as well—and then Time Machine will copy that data over as well.

2. Clone

Although Time Machine is great for incremental backups, if you ever have to do a complete recovery it can be time consuming. A bit-identical clone, on the other hand, isn't just fast to restore, you can boot off of it in a pinch and get right back to work immediately in case of emergency. You still need an external hard drive, but in this case it doesn't store your backup—it becomes your clone. That means you simply need to match the size of your internal drive. You also need an app, since cloning isn't built into macOS. Both SuperDuper! and Carbon Copy Cloner can get the job done.

If you want to back your iPhone or iPad as part of the clone, you'll still need to connect them to iTunes and make a backup—make it encrypted, so it stores your passwords securely as well.

3. Offline + offsite

If you have incredibly personal data you can't afford to lose but also don't want to risk on anyone else's servers, you can make an additional copy or clone on an additional drive and keep it somewhere else. If it's home data you can keep it at work. If it's work data you can keep it at home. You can keep it with a relative or friend, if you trust them. You can keep it in a locked drawer, a safe, even a safety deposit box at a bank. Then, every week or month or so, you can swap it with a recently updated version so it's always as up-to-date as possible. And if a fire, break-in, or anything else ever takes out your primary data, your backup is still safe. It's old-fashioned, but it works.

4. Online backup

Offline backups might be private but they're also a pain. If you don't mind trusting your data to someone else's servers, there are online options that are basically set-it-and-forget-it. Sign up, sign in, and from then on the bits just float up to the cloud.

On iOS, Apple provides the built-in iCloud Backup that keeps all your data safe on the company's servers—as long as you have enough space left on your account. On macOS, not so much. Luckily, there are a couple of company's that provide inexpensive, reliable online backup, including Backblaze and Crashplan. Experts can even roll their own using Amazon or a similar service. They'll copy every bit of your data to their servers and then let you download it again if and when you need it. For large amounts of critical data, some will even take and send drives to speed things up.

5. Online storage

Backing up your entire drive is effective but not always convenient. It also provides security but not synchronization. While you should absolutely have local and online backups, you may also want to keep your most important files safe and synced via online storage. Apple provides the built-in iCloud Drive, which is accessible through both iOS and OS X. Dropbox, though, is typically regarded as the fastest and most flexible solution. Google also offers its own online drive, as does Microsoft. If you use their services, you'll have the best time using their storage. All of them are cross-platfom, so you can pick the one that suits you best and access all your files from anywhere.

Your backup plan?

If you already have a backup plan for your data, let me know what it is! If not, let me know what you end up going with!

Updated January 2017.

Rene Ritchie
Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

18 Comments
  • If you want a secure online backup that nobody can access, not even the people who own the servers, check out SpiderOak: https://spideroak.com
  • With crashplan you can set your own encription key and its a lot cheaper (US$50 for a year, unlimited data).
    At $12 a month for only 1Tb SpiderOak is very expensive.
  • Cool, I'll check into it. Do they guarantee nobody--not even the government--can access the data?
  • While i would bet Crashplan provide a "tamper-proof" way to secure and so would SpiderOak, by not complying with giving up, u'd be breaking the law.. Just because companies, even Apple btw, say that have keys only they can access, or no keys to hand over doesn't mean anything when if comes to the government, because as we know they can just get other third party companies to get at your data is they want to.. There's are third party companies that specialize selling these tools to the government agencies, and organizations. so if the company(s) fail to comply, there are other ways in... (basically like saying u didn't let us in the front door, so we'll go round the back and break it down). It still comes all down to trust. Crashplan or Spideroak weather u decide keep your data on their servers in the first place... But for best security, i always keep it local.... even my backup's and any less secure data i don't mind losing *if* such an issue may arise (although very small, but u gotta take everything on board), then i know what i am giving up.. SpiderOak is probably the better ones, BUT i still trust yourself more just because it's your data on someone's system... encryption at this point after it leaves YOU doesn't matter, because it is no longer under your control at all times. The only way to be sure if u keep it. Then again.. I am more of a geek :)
  • Yah, no argument from me. I went with Crashplan and I DO feel more secure in the sense that, if something happened to my 2 Time Machine backups, I'd still have my data. But, you're right: if the NSA really wanted my data, they could now get it eventually. That said, in my case, there's nothing they'd be remotely interested in, really. Still think it's all unconstitutional, though. Let's keep fighting them in the Trump era (not that the Democrats are significantly better)!
  • I've been using Backblaze for a couple of years on my MacBook Pro. They back up external drives on a Mac (carbonite does not) and they are very reasonably priced with unlimited data. I have all my photos (40GB) on an external drive and Backblaze takes care of that. I use Time Machine as well. For archival storage of business and personal docs (tax stuff, etc), I use dropbox (that's connected to Scanner Pro) and google drive - both are shared with my wife. On my PCs *gasp* I use GoodSync to automatically back up data to external drives, Amazon S3, and google drive.
  • Time Machine and CrashPlan. Sent from the iMore App
  • Arq is my preferred backup option. I use it to send my data to Amazon S3. It was much faster for initial upload than Crashplan. I like the idea that the data is on my Amazon account, not simply in Crashplan/Backblaze's cloud somewhere.
  • I use Time Machine
    Carbon Copy Cloner for a bootable back up
    Crash plan I should really clone my CCC clone and keep a copy at work Now I need to work on my security and encryption
  • SuperDuper clone
    Time Machine
    CrashPlan If you've never tested restoring from a backup, it's almost as bad as not having any backups.
  • Just a simple Backup of Movies, Pictures, and Music to external HDD.. Everything else is either in a cloud and if it's not there, well then it won't be missed if it gets lost. I'm actually thinking of completely wiping my Mac clean and giving it a fresh start because I'm dealing with too many bugs (such as not being able to transfer photos from iPhone to Mac Photos app), so a fresh start is not a bad idea.
  • Local backup: Time Machine
    Clone: not yet
    Offline + offsite: good idea
    Online backup: Backblaze
    Online storage: iCloud Drive
  • My Macs backup online to using Time Machine to a NAS Array. They also ship their critical data to iDrive offsite.
  • I use Time Machine, Photos for pictures, and iTunes for Music. Documents are backed up on Dropbox. I don't care about anything else.
  • I've been using Carbon Copy Cloner for many years. Gonna look into CrashPlan as well.
  • Is anyone else experiencing iCloud backup failure? Even under the conditions stated "when this iPhone is plugged in, locked, and connected to Wi-fi" my phone still doesn't back up. Although my iPad has no problem.
  • Is it possible to upgrade a MacBook Air hard drive? Sent from the iMore App
  • Time Machine backup to Drobo 5N which replicates to my Drobo 5D (Connected via Thunderbolt to Mac mini) which in turn backs up to Crashplan.