How to transfer data to a new iPhone if you're on a beta
If you're planning on getting a new iPhone on launch day, you might run into a particular issue if your current iPhone has been on the iOS beta track for a bit. As has happened with the iPhone 11 in 2019 and the iPhone 12 in 2020, Apple's flagship iPhones are launching with versions of iOS that are older than what is currently in beta. For instance, the iPhone 12 ships with iOS 14.1, while the beta version of iOS at launch was iOS 14.2. So if you've been updating your current iPhone to the latest beta, restoring from backup to a new iPhone might be a bit of a chore.
The good news with the iOS 14 beta cycle versus the iOS 13 cycle is that, with iOS 14, there was a Golden Master and actual public release of iOS 14.0 before Apple moved on to 14.2, so there was a logical jumping-off point if you wanted to restore your new iPhone from a backup without a rigmarole.
If, however, you stayed on the beta cycle until you had a new iPhone 12 in hand, you'll need to follow these steps, too.
Here's what you'll need to do to transfer data to a new iPhone from a backup of a phone on a newer iOS beta.
So, you've been following along the iOS beta cycle since WWDC. You even put the iOS beta on your primary iPhone (but who would do such a thing?) And when the new version of iOS that you'd been testing all summer was finally released to the public, you considered getting off the train but ultimately decided against it.
But now you're getting a new iPhone, and have continued updating to the latest beta version of iOS. The beta version on your old iPhone is newer than the release version on your new iPhone. And you want to restore from a backup, but old versions of iOS can't be restored from backups of new versions of iOS. So what do you do?
Well, here's what you do.
Unfortunately, the answer to this problem is fairly convoluted and depends on whether or not Apple releases the current beta versions of iOS for the brand new iPhones.
As I see it, there are two possible scenarios.
Scenario 1: Apple doesn't release a beta
This is actually the simplest one. If Apple doesn't release a beta version of iOS for its new phones, then that's that. You can either set up your new iPhone as a new device, forego restoring from a backup, and update to the new version of iOS when it releases to the public, and maybe restore from a backup then.
Or you could hang on to your old iPhone that's running the updated beta and use that until the official release of the new version of iOS to the public, at which point you can then set up your new iPhone. You'd still need to set up your new iPhone as a new device, update it, then restore it, but you wouldn't also need to install a beta profile on it, too.
Scenario 2: Apple releases a beta on iPhone launch day
This is more complicated, but it's how Apple has done things in the past. At some point on iPhone launch day, Apple should release a version of whatever the current iOS beta is for its new iPhone lineup. This should be available to both developer and public beta users, but you'll have to play it by ear.
Whatever the case may be, to upgrade your new iPhone to the beta, you'll need to activate it as a new iPhone first. Once you've set it up, enroll it in either the developer or public beta program (you'll need a developer account to do the former). Once you've done that, you can download the beta over-the-air as soon as it's available.
- How to download the iOS developer beta to your iPhone
- How to download the iOS public beta to your iPhone
After the upgrade: Erasing your iPhone
Assuming Apple releases an iOS beta for the new iPhones, once you've upgraded your new phone to it, you'll want to erase it if you plan to restore a backup from your previous iPhone. A trip to Settings easily accomplishes that.
How to wipe all personal data and erase your iPhone and iPad
Restoring your iPhone from a backup
So, to recap: you've set up your new iPhone, updated it to the latest iOS beta, and now you've erased all of it. Once erased, your iPhone will still be on the iOS beta. Now you can restore it from an iOS beta backup of your older iPhone.
How to restore your iPhone or iPad from a backup
Once restored, your new iPhone will be on the iOS beta, and you can update it to the release version of iOS when it launches to the general iPhone-owning public.
If you have any questions about how to transfer data to a new iPhone from a backup of a newer version of iOS, feel free to ask them in the comments.
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Joseph Keller is the former Editor in Chief of iMore. An Apple user for almost 20 years, he spends his time learning the ins and outs of iOS and macOS, always finding ways of getting the most out of his iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac.