I have already written about my backup strategy; it isn’t anything innovative and follows the well-known 3-2-1 backup system. In today’s post, I’d like to spend some more time to talk about backing up iOS devices.
The iPhone indeed warrants special consideration in my backup strategy. The reason is that it is the smallest device I have and the one that I carry around the most. Hence the likelihood of it getting lost or stolen is much higher compared to the other devices. This also means that I want to make sure everything is backed up in real-time or close enough to that. The aim is that if the iPhone gets dropped and destroyed, lost, or stolen, I can just get another one, restore the backup and continue my life without any big drama. I won’t be happy about it, but at least it won’t make me lose a bunch of time or rue the disappearance of precious photos and videos taken with the iPhone.
Update February 2020: The part below is no longer updated, I now using iMazing Backup to manage all my iOS device backups. When I’ll have time I’ll write a proper guide for that.
The most bulletproof way of backing up your photos in real-time to a cloud solution is using Apple’s own iCloud. Since Apple only gives 5GB for free you will most likely have to pay extra to make space for your photo collection. On the other hand storage space is affordable at only 0,99 €/mo. For 200GB the cost is $2.99 per month. And for 1TB Apple charges $9.99 per month.
A few years back iCloud accounts got hacked so you might want to keep that in mind before making a decision. Of course, every system is bound to be hackable, but the iCloud system has a breach in its history. Perhaps you will also view it as an advantage. Having already had their system breached once, iCloud engineers must have made a big effort to make sure it never happens again.
You can back your phone up to your computer and to iCloud if you want. This isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition, and there are non-privacy-related reasons for doing a local backup even if you continue to do iCloud backups. If you don’t want your backups on iCloud at all, you can click the “This computer” button in iTunes to disable backups, or you can do it from within the settings on your iPhone. Also remember to delete old backups from iCloud if you don’t want them up there, since they’ll stay there even if you turn backups off, and Apple won’t keep copies of your stuff on its servers after you’ve deleted it.
To manage and delete your backups locally, you’ll need to go to the iTunes preferences and hit the Devices tab. All backups for all devices along with timestamps and lock icons (to denote an encrypted backup) will be listed here, and you can delete them if you’re running out of drive space or if you just don’t need them anymore.
One other option is to use iCloud storage to back up your apps, contacts, text messages, and settings, and download Google Photos to store your image library. There are many options available and you can mix and match possibilities until you find the combination that’s right for you.
Google Photos gives users unlimited storage of photos and videos, provided that they are no larger than 16 megapixels (photos) or Full HD 1080p (videos); larger photos and videos are either downsized or counted against a user’s base 15GB Google Account storage. If you already have lots of files in your Google Drive you could also open a new Google account and use it solely for photos backups, although it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth and should only be done if you absolutely want to do backups for free.
- Photos can’t exceed 75MB or 100 megapixels
- Videos can’t exceed 10GB
The big problem with using Google Photos for backing up photos from your iPhone is this: Google Photos only uploads photos to Google Drive when your screen is on and the Google Photos app is in the foreground. This is very problematic because we want all backups to happen without our intervention. If the backup relies on us having to open Google Photos it is not a reliable backup and involves too much work on our end. There is a workaround but I’m not sure it’s a real workaround because it still involves user intervention.
Some may claim that their apps or services can back up your phone, but because of software limitations, they can only do so in part. iCloud and iTunes are the only truly complete options, backing up not only photos and videos, but also your contact list, text messages, applications data, and settings from your iPhone.
At the core of every backup plan is having one central place where you want to store all of your digital stuff; photos, videos, contacts, etc., regardless of the where they come from: your iPhone, Facebook, image scans, the Internet, etc. Typically this is your home computer or laptop. To ensure the safety of your iPhone data simply back it up to your computer and then backup your computer to the cloud.
Having discussed various options, here’s the way I do it.
First of all, on the first day of every month, I check all my backups to make sure they are all intact and all devices are being backed up correctly. I highly encourage that you pick up this practice to avoid any mishaps. It’s usually less than an hour’s work and is well worth doing.
To ensure the most complete backup of your iPhone follow these steps:
Start with real-time backup:
Use iCloud to keep your phone backed up as you use it. I don’t use iCloud Photo but you could use that if real-time backup is very important to you. If you don’t use iCloud Photo the photos will still be backed up but less frequently (about once a day).
iOS does backup your photos as part of its normal backup process, unless you enable iCloud Photo Library, in which case the photo library is backed up separately as part of iCloud Photo Library.
Through the normal backup process (iCloud Photo Library disabled), your photos are backed up at most once every 24 hours along with the rest of your data, when your iPhone is on Wi-Fi, charged, and locked. Those photos can only be recovered by restoring your iPhone from your iCloud backup.
With iCloud Photo Library enabled, your photos get uploaded to iCloud every time you’re on Wi-Fi. This is a syncing process rather than a “backup” per se. However in the event that you lose your iPhone you will still be able to recover your photos from iCloud (even without restoring your new iPhone from backup). Therefore this option acts as a backup for your photos.
This distinction is a bit of a technicality, but the important part is you can consider your photos backed up to iCloud, no matter which option you choose. Since there is no need to backup your photos to iCloud twice, iOS only does one or the other.
What you’re seeing in that second screen is your photos being uploaded to your iCloud Photo Library specifically. It’s a different/separate method from the regular backup, which is why the photos need to be uploaded again. It doesn’t mean your photos never got backed up before.
If you have multiple Apple devices, I would advise you to keep using iCloud Photo Library, since that presents many advantages beyond a simple backup: quicker backup of your photos, synchronizing photos across devices, saving storage on your iPhone, allowing you to bring all your photos onto a new device, etc.
Next backup your iPhone to your computer:
Use iTunes on your computer and backup your iPhone on a regular basis, at minimum once a week but preferably more often, especially if you take a lot of photos. This will backup everything from your iPhone to your computer.
The good thing is that this is semi-automated and will happen once a day without your intervention, provided you connect your iPhone to your Macbook.
With wireless syncing, you can sync your iTunes library (copy music files, tv shows, photos from your photo library, etc of usual iTunes sync,) make backups, and do a bit of iTunes configuration — all without the device plugged into the computer, as long as the device is on the same wireless network as the computer running iTunes.
You will need to connect your iPhone via cable the first time. Head over to iTunes and click the options for backing up and wifi sync. Once you’ve enabled Wi-Fi syncing in iTunes, Wi-Fi sync happens automatically, once per day, when your iOS device is connected to power and on the same Wi-Fi network as the computer running iTunes. (If you unplug from power after the sync starts, the sync continues.) You’ll see a sync icon in the iOS device’s status bar during any sync—you can continue to use the device during the sync. You can also force a Wi-Fi sync—with or without power—any time you’re on the same Wi-Fi network as your computer and iTunes is running: On your iOS device, go to Settings > General > iTunes Wi-Fi Sync > Sync Now; or on your Mac, select your device in the iTunes sidebar and then click Sync in the lower right corner of the Summary screen.
Note that iTunes backups are different than iCloud backups. When you back up via iTunes, you’ll get a complete copy of all the data on your device so you can restore your device to the same exact state later. With iCloud, only “the most important data” on your device will be backed up to your iCloud account. For example, iCloud backups don’t include a complete copy of the music and videos on your device — but iTunes backups will. This allows you to save limited iCloud space and avoid having to upload and download huge amounts of data.
Once enabled, iCloud backups will run automatically whenever the following conditions are met:
- Your device is powered on,
- Your device is connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi,
- Your device is connected to a power source,
- Your device has the screen locked (i.e. turned off), and
- It has been at least 24 hours since the last successful backup occurred.
In other words, your device may not be backed up to iCloud at the same time every day, but once 24 hours has elapsed the iPhone will make a backup as soon as it is plugged in and on Wi-Fi with the screen off. For example, if your iPhone backs up to iCloud at 10:00 pm tonight, but you don’t plug it in while on a Wi-Fi connection until midnight tomorrow night, the next backup will occur at midnight—basically as soon as you plug it in—and future backups will continue to run at midnight on subsequent days as long as the iPhone is plugged in, connected to Wi-Fi, and has the screen off at that time. If you’re working an irregular schedule and coming home at different hours, this may gradually push the backups to later at night, but the backup won’t be skipped if you miss the time window—it will still occur as soon as possible once all of the other conditions are met.
This does of course mean that sometimes backups can get pushed to the point where they may be delayed until the next night; come home at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning and plug in your iPhone and that’s when your next backup will occur, but if you leave for work on Monday morning at 9:00 am and your phone isn’t plugged in and on Wi-Fi while at work, you won’t get another automatic backup until you get home and plug it in later that night.
It is important to note that for WiFi backups to work the Mac must be powered on and have iTunes open. After completing the above steps, iTunes will automatically run a backup when you charge your iPhone.
WiFi backups don’t work on all school and work networks due to the way that they are designed. This is sometimes set up to prevent network congestion or because networks with a single WiFi identity are actually meshes of several networks that are not directly connected to each other.
You can check the time of the last successful iCloud backup by going into the Settings app on your iPhone and choosing Storage & Backup from the iCloud section.
You can also tap the “Back Up Now” button from this screen to create a manual iCloud backup at any time. To create a manual iCloud backup, your iPhone only needs to be on Wi-Fi, it does not need to be plugged in or have the screen off. Note that a manual backup also factors into the automatic backup schedule, meaning the next automatic backup will not occur until at least 24 hours later. This can be one method for adjusting to a specific backup time if you really feel the need to, but it’s largely unnecessary as iOS should naturally settle into a standard backup routine as long as your iPhone is regularly plugged in and on Wi-Fi for at least a few hours each day, such as while you’re sleeping.
As one last note, it’s also worth keeping in mind that the iPhone only needs to be connected to power with the screen off to start an iCloud backup; once the automatic backup has started, it will continue as long as the iPhone remains on a Wi-Fi connection, even if you unplug the iPhone or begin using it.
Privacy is definitely one reason to use local backups vs just using iCloud; if your encrypted phone backup is stored on your encrypted laptop that is itself protected with a strong password, there’s very little chance that anyone without the right credentials can get access to anything.
There are also benefits when you’re restoring that backup to your iPhone. As Apple’s page on encrypted iTunes backups outlines, encrypted local backups are the only ones that contain saved account passwords, Wi-Fi settings, browsing history, and data from the Health app. Apple doesn’t want this data on its servers for security and privacy reasons, and it’s not stored in unencrypted local backups for the same reason. Use encrypted local backups, and you get that info back if you need to do a restore.
It also helps if you’re upgrading to a new phone or using a loaner or replacement phone. When you restore an iCloud backup to a phone or tablet that’s not the phone or tablet you backed it up from, you don’t lose any of your photos or iMessage history or anything like that, but you do lose the credentials for e-mail accounts and any other apps that require authentication.
This makes it so that someone with the password for your Apple ID couldn’t restore one of your backups to his or her own phone and gain access to every e-mail account and app that you’ve signed into on your own phone. But it also makes it a hassle to move over to a new iPhone or one AppleCare just replaced. Encrypted backups retain and restore that account information even if you’re moving to a different phone.
Encrypted local backups won’t be the best choice for everybody. You give up convenience, as is usually the case when you make security and privacy a priority. You need to remember to connect your phone to your computer every day or two, you need to devote local storage space to the backups, and you won’t have access to those backups if anything happens to the computer. It’s up to you to decide what balance of privacy and security works for you.
When you backup your data using iTunes, you will not be able to go into your backup and backup files selectively as iTunes does not allow this. However you can use other applications that allow you to do this to a certain extent. I suggest using AnyTrans or Gihosoft iPhone Data Recovery for this purpose.
I highly recommend reading this article about iCloud and iTunes backups and what’s included in these backups.
iTunes does not have any capacity for doing an automatically scheduled backup, over wifi or over USB. You can automate iTunes backups over Wi-Fi using this guide.
With a Wi-Fi network connection, you can make a backup of your device using iCloud. You don’t need to plug your device into a computer or even be at home to back up with iCloud.
iCloud backups include nearly all data and settings stored on your device. iCloud backups don’t include:
- Data that’s already stored in iCloud, like Contacts, Calendars, Notes, iCloud Photos, iMessages, Voice Memos, text (SMS) and multimedia (MMS) messages, and Health data*
- Data stored in other cloud services, like Gmail and Exchange mail
- Apple Mail data
- Apple Pay information and settings
- Touch ID settings
- iCloud Music Library and App Store content (If it’s still available in the iTunes, App, or Apple Books store, you can tap to re-download your already purchased content.)
* When you use Messages in iCloud, Health data on iOS 12 or later, or Voice Memos, your content is automatically stored in iCloud. If you turn on iCloud Photos, your content is also automatically stored in iCloud.
From your Mac or PC, you can make a backup of your device in iTunes. Syncing your device with your computer isn’t the same as making a backup. An iTunes backup includes nearly all of your device’s data and settings. An iTunes backup doesn’t include:
- Content from the iTunes and App Stores, or PDFs downloaded directly to Apple Books
- Content synced from iTunes, like imported MP3s or CDs, videos, books, and photos
- Data already stored in iCloud, like iCloud Photos, iMessages, and text (SMS) and multimedia (MMS) messages
- Face ID or Touch ID settings
- Apple Pay information and settings
- Apple Mail data
- Activity, Health, and Keychain data (To back up this content, you’ll need to use Encrypted Backup in iTunes.)
Finally backup your computer to the cloud:
Having done the previous steps, your computer now contains your iPhone data along with all of your other digital files. The next step is to backup your computer to the cloud to protect all of your data. Backblaze offers unlimited online backups so you don’t have to worry about picking which files to backup, just automatically backup all of your files.
Both Time Machine and BackBlaze automatically take backups of iTunes backups.