Blog Post

iOS 101: Set up and restore from iCloud backup

With the arrival of iCloud (s aapl) backups we are free from needing to attach your iOS device to iTunes to have it backed up. Gone are the annoying delays when you just want to sync something quick, but need to suffer through “Backing up…” first. Here’s how to get up and running with iCloud backup, and a detailed description of what it does and doesn’t restore.

Setting up iCloud backups

Go to the iCloud settings and choose Storage and Backup. Make sure iCloud backup is set to “On.”

According to Apple, this is what’s backed up: Purchased music, TV shows, apps, and books; photos and video in the Camera Roll; device settings; app data; home screen and app organization; messages (iMessage, SMS, and MMS); and ringtones. Apple’s mantra is anything that can be re-downloaded isn’t backed up, so your apps and any apps that have downloadable content aren’t stored in the cloud. If you have large amounts of app data, like PDFs in GoodReader, you may find yourself going over your free 5 GB limit. Naturally, if you do want all that data backed up, you can buy more storage: 15 GB is $20 per year; 25 GB is $40 per year; and 55 GB is $100 per year.

To specify which app data is or is not backed up, while still in the Storage and Backup section of the iCloud settings, click on Manage Storage and then your iOS device. Here, you can specify which apps iCloud backs up, and which it doesn’t.

iCloud backups happen whenever the device is plugged in, on a Wi-Fi network, and locked (meaning it’s at the Swipe to Unlock screen). If you want to check when the last backup was, or force a backup, at the bottom of the Storage and Backups screen there is a Back Up Now button.

Restoring from backup

Right now, backups and restores are done on the assumption you’ve either replaced your device, or your whole install is so messed up you had to nuke from orbit. The only way you can restore data is from the setup screen on a fresh install of iOS; you can’t just restore the specific data from a single app you accidentally deleted. This will be less of a problem once apps are updated to store their own backups in iCloud.

To reset your device, under General, choose Reset, and then Erase All Content and Settings. Your device will be restored to factory conditions and you will be prompted with this screen.

Restoration is a two-step process: first the device settings are restored, then all apps are re-downloaded from Apple’s servers. The restoration happens in order: the first app on your first screen is the first app to be re-downloaded. If you want to prioritize an app, tap on its icon. According to Apple, the restore will attempt to download the same version of the app that you had installed previously. If that version is no longer available, the latest version of the app will be restored instead.

The Aftermath

After doing several restores this weekend to try this out, I found the process relatively smooth with few surprises. I did have to re-enter a few email addresses. These all seemed to be Gmail (s aapl) addresses I had set up as Exchange accounts. However, it didn’t tell me which Exchange server it needed the passwords to. I also had to re-enter my iTunes password and my Game Center password. All fairly minor inconveniences. It did lose that I was syncing wirelessly to my MacBook, so I had to set that up again. I also recommend letting the Wi-Fi re-download from Apple’s servers completely (and not switch to iTunes syncing for apps) to ensure everything comes down clean. If you’re in a restore state, it’s best to limit the variables.

What’s nice is if you suffer a critical failure on the road you can get yourself up and running easily. This is great if your iOS device dies; you can swap it out at the Apple store and restore from backup while you’re there.

It’s important to make sure when you do this you have the time to check out that everything restored properly. It would be embarrassing to need to restore your device before a big presentation and find out the hard way Keynote or your specific presentation didn’t restore properly.

18 Responses to “iOS 101: Set up and restore from iCloud backup”

  1. My question is specifically about how music is restored. I sync only a subset of my iTunes library to the phone. If I restore from iCloud backup, will that same subset be restored, or will iCloud try and stuff everything I’ve ever purchased from iTunes onto the phone?

  2. aside from the messages on the Backup screens on your iPhone…is there any way to browse iCloud and check on the files its uploaded? i don’t see a camera roll icon, so how can i be sure my pictures are up there?

  3. thank you for this!! I mistakenly thought that itunes didn’t register my previous backups. I forgot that my recent backup was done via the cloud. I am so thankful for this post man. Kudos

  4. Untill I read this article, I didn’t realize that the only way to restore a full backup was to wipe the device?? Itunes had gone south on me (what a surprise!) and wiped most of the content from the ipad. I thought, wait a minit… I have a cloud backup! I decided to undertake this risky operation. After an agonizing 10 minutes or so, it actually worked!

    Seems they could just have a menu option to do a restore, but in Apple’s infinite wisdom, they chose not to. As much as I hate iTunes, I sure am glad this option was available.

  5. It has been 7 hours and my I touch has not completed iCloud restore. It is my daughters and she does have many apps. Her contacts are restored. How long should it take?

  6. Anna Saul

    Thank you I am having to replace my new iPhone 4S because if battery and wondered how I could do a restore. Subsequently I have discovered a reason for battery loss and probably needed NOT to change it but it is coming tomorrow to to late to stop it

  7. Jimmyb30

    Trying to figure out all these new changes that have arisen with ios 5 on my iPod Touch 4g!!!

    I have iCloud back up on. My iPod is routinely plugged in & wifi in my house.

    How do I know iCloud backups are automatically being done???? I ask because whenever I check in settings…iCloud…backup…the only entry I ever see for “last iCloud backup” is whenever I’ve MANUALLY performed one?!?!?!

    I’ve even taken a photo & dl’ed free app and let my iPhone shut off and waited a while. Is it supposed to display under iCloud backup the date & time auto iCloud backups r performed when iPod’s locked, plugged in & on wifi? Because all I ever see is the date & time of my last manual backup?

    Please advise!!! Much appreciated in advance!

  8. I am so bummed because I backed up my phone last night, then loaded the new ios5. Didnt have the time to check that things synced because the new ios took 1 1/2 hours to download and I fell asleep before it finished loading on my phone. I left the house today, my speaker on the phone wasnt working so Apple kindly replaced my phone for me today. The nice man loaded my contacts onto the new phone via sims card. We started icloud. I was told it was all there and I could just retore phone from that. YIKES… all my info was lost. My old back-up with apps was there once I synced to my computer. My calendars and photos were most important and they were lost. Has anyone else ran into lost info? Any input for me? Im not on cloud 9 with this one!

    • I had the same thing happen to me! After they restored it at the Apple store and used iCloud to back it up and I went home to sync with my laptop-pictures, screen savers, app configuration, and some contacts were lost! I turned of iCloud and still wasn’t able to recover my data. :( Totally bummed!

  9. Just had the pleasure of having to use icloud restore for the first time. Must say it is painfully slow. It took an hour and my backup is only 2gigs. I must say icloud backup is useful for just that. A backup. I will be using itunes to restore from now on. And i can see how icloud will be useful in case you forgot to sync, but besides that, itunes backup is the way to go.

  10. I’m still backing up to my Mac. I’m very interested in backing up to the cloud but have a couple of questions. Is your iCloud account different from your iTunes account? If so, did you notice any hiccups related to this other than having to enter your iTunes password? When you back up to iCloud does the device still back up to the computer when it syncs or are all backups now iCloud only? Does the device really have to be plugged in to backup to the cloud? I noticed that wifi syncing says the device has to be plugged in to sync but my devices will sync over wifi when they are not plugged in. Thanks!